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Police Warn Spectators Could Also Face Threats During Papal Visit

The pope lands in the US this afternoon.

ByABC News
September 22, 2015, 10:13 AM
Pope Francis prays inside the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, in El Cobre, Cuba, Sept. 21, 2015.
Pope Francis prays inside the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, in El Cobre, Cuba, Sept. 21, 2015.
Tony Gentile/AP Photo

— -- As he prepares to land on American soil, Pope Francis isn’t the only one facing a diverse spectrum of threats from the likes of ISIS and even the Italian mafia.

Those seeking to catch a glimpse of the pope during his visit, or simply praying in the same city as him, could also become targets, according to a rare, joint threat assessment compiled by three of the nation’s top police departments.

Sharing their best intelligence to date, the New York Police Department, Metropolitan Police Department in Washington and Philadelphia Police Department collectively concluded there is no specific, credible threat tied to the pope’s visit.

However, “[e]ven if the pope is well protected,” large crowds gathered outside event locations and on public transportation “can be attractive targets for individuals and groups looking to carry out attacks” and looking to “capitalize on the high level of attention that the city will be receiving,” the threat assessment says.

Terrorists could also “choose to attack houses of worship in other parts of the city or to target other religious figures,” according to the 13-page assessment, which serves to urge vigilance among law enforcement and others.

“Such an attack would allow terrorists to ... garner a significant amount of attention while avoiding areas of high security,” warns the assessment, at times focusing on New York City.

The assessment says that while religious institutions inside the United States have not seen large-scale bombings in recent years, “they have been targeted in attacks involving small arms fire and arson,” most notably the June massacre at a historically-black church in Charleston that killed nine people.

“There are currently no reports indicating” such a threat, the assessment insists.

Of course, given his “symbolic value,” Pope Francis himself still remains one of the biggest potential targets after he lands in Washington later today and then makes his way to New York and Philadelphia over the next several days.

The assessment says his trip to the United States “may be seen as an opportune time to carry out an assassination attempt.”

“Pope Francis’ schedule has been posted online since June, meaning that those seeking to target him know when and where he will be at all points during the trip,” the threat assessment says.

The assessment notes that over the past year, ISIS propaganda online has repeatedly called for attacks on Pope Francis, and that ISIS “has demonstrated a proficiency at inspiring local individuals to conduct acts of terror in their home countries.”

Last week, ABC News first reported that the FBI had quietly arrested a 15-year-old boy outside of Philadelphia for allegedly threatening to launch an ISIS-inspired assault on Pope Francis.

The latest assessment cites additional threats from other Muslim extremist groups, including a reported plot by an al Qaeda-linked group to kill Pope Francis in January while he was visiting the Philippines. That plot was foiled by Philippine authorities, the assessment says.

Meanwhile, the Pope’s excommunication of all mafia members from the Catholic Church last year and other “policies that have negatively affected the Italian mafia” have also put him in the crosshairs of mobsters who are “allegedly explor[ing] avenues of retribution,” according to the assessment.

The assessment also warns that “extreme Christian activists,” White supremacists and other right-wing groups –- angered by recent positions Pope Francis has taken -– could look to harm him.

Nevertheless, echoing a sentiment repeated throughout the document, the assessment’s executive summary concludes: “There are currently no reports indicating a known threat to Pope Francis during his visit ... [T]his assessment lays out the potential threat categories based on open-source reporting.”