September 17, 2010 / 9:12 AM / 8 years ago

Six men arrested in London during pope's visit

LONDON (Reuters) - Anti-terrorism police, on high alert during a visit by Pope Benedict to the British capital, arrested six men on Friday on suspicion of preparing an attack.

Pope Benedict XVI greets children upon his arrival at ST. Mary University college in Twickenham September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/Pool

Police moved quickly to make the pre-dawn arrests of five men who worked as street cleaners in the area in central London near parliament where the pontiff later spoke.

A sixth suspect was arrested about eight hours later but it was not clear if he worked for the same cleaning company contracted by the Westminster area of London.

British broadcaster Sky cited unnamed sources as saying the six were Algerian but police said they could not comment on the report and the Algerian embassy said it had not been notified of the arrests of any of its nationals.

Police, who searched eight homes and two businesses in London, reviewed security arrangements after the arrests but decided they remained “appropriate.”

The BBC reported that the men had posed “a possible threat to the pope” but police refused to confirm or deny that. The Vatican said the trip would go ahead as planned and that the pope was calm.

Security is expected to be tight on Saturday when demonstrators protesting against the pope plan to march from Hyde Park to Downing Street, the prime minister’s official London residence.

Pope Benedict is due to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron, his deputy Nick Clegg and acting opposition leader Harriet Harman, before attending a prayer vigil at the park.


The pope on Friday visited the parliament area, where he met with the Archbishop of Canterbury and addressed British leaders.

Hundreds of protesters along the route called him the “anti-Christ” and shouted “shame” as they held up pictures of children who were sexually abused by priests in a scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.

Similar protests were held at a Catholic university the pope visited on Friday morning.

The six unnamed men, aged between 26 and 50, were arrested on “suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” according to police statements.

The pope has been heavily protected during his four-day visit to Britain, traveling in a custom-built bulletproof car surrounded by security officials.

Benedict has not been the target of any serious attacks but his predecessor was almost killed in an assassination attempt in 1981 and was the subject of several other attacks.

When the pope travels outside the Vatican he is protected by the host country’s police forces plus a small contingent of about a dozen Vatican security men.

In July 2005, four British Islamists killed 52 people and wounded hundreds by setting off suicide bombs on London’s transport system.

An Islamist cell attempted a car bomb attack on Glasgow airport in June 2007, in which one of two would-be suicide bombers was killed.

“We are totally confident in police and there are no plans to change the program,” said Father Federico Lombardi. He said the pope was calm and looking forward to the rest of the visit.

The pope held talks at Lambeth Palace with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the world’s 80 million Anglicans.

Slideshow (21 Images)

Williams and the pope, whose Churches split in 1534, both spoke of the importance of faith in society and agreed that Christianity should not be seen as a threat to freedom.

In a joint statement, they said they were committed to continued dialogue but acknowledged obstacles to unity “from within the Christian community,” a reference to divisions over Anglican women priests and gay bishops.

Later, the pope told British leaders, including four former prime ministers, that religion had to be a “vital contributor” to national debate on a host of issues.

Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina, Adrian Croft, Stefano Ambrogi and Bill Maclean; Editing by Andrew Dobbie

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