Security concerns erupt after gunshots near Saint-Pierre

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ROME – Security alerts around the Vatican are high after an incident on Sunday in which officers fired at a rogue vehicle swerving at high speed and driving through police barricades near St. Peter’s Square just before the speech of the pope at the Angelus at noon.

Around 10 a.m., just two hours before Pope Francis was due to deliver his traditional Angelus address, a gray BMW was seen driving erratically down Via della Conciliazione, the main street leading to St. Rock.


Police stationed near the square shouted and waved at the car in an attempt to stop it, however, the car continued to veer down the street and turned and rolled along the left colonnade, eventually turning towards Piazza Sant’Uffizio, where tourists were lined up to go through security checks and stop at cafes before the papal address.

The car apparently drove straight into a police blockade, prompting one of the officers to fire at the vehicle’s tires as it swerved towards it and a group of tourists standing nearby.

Swiss guards standing in front of the “Holy Office”, the building where the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is located, closed the doors as the car passed.

Although its two front tires were shot, the vehicle did not stop, but slammed into a police car and entered Via Porta Cavalliggeri and sped Gregorio VII, the main street running alongside the Vatican walls. .

A special anti-terrorist unit deployed on the spot finally managed to cut off the vehicle, forcing it to stop.

According to video footage, officers then jumped out of their car and surrounded the vehicle, which allegedly started moving again as if it was about to attempt to escape, prompting an office to open fire on the tires again .

Police then stormed the car, smashed its windows and used a taser on the driver to immobilize him.

The driver has been identified as 39-year-old Albanian Erjol Nako, who apparently has a history of drug trafficking and abuse against his ex-wife.

After being incapacitated by police, Nako was taken first to a police station and then to a hospital, where blood tests confirmed he was both drunk and drugged while driving the vehicle. .

While the incident was initially believed to be a terror attack ahead of the Pope’s Angelus speech, police have found no weapons or other ‘offensive objects’ in Nako’s vehicle, and so far no links. has been established with extremist groups.

Nako, who after being treated at Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome was arrested for resisting an official, is apparently a devout Catholic, as his social media accounts are filled with prayers, references to sacred music and information about Rome. His profile picture on Facebook is an image of Saint Michael the Archangel, who ironically was proclaimed patron saint of the police by Pope Pius XII in 1949.

Before heading to the Vatican, Nako apparently broke into a police checkpoint near the Pantheon, then walked through a second on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of the main streets through the city center, before head towards the Vatican area.

At one point, Nako threw his cellphone and wallet containing all his documents out of his car window in a vain attempt not to be identified.

Two officers were apparently injured in one of Nako’s attempts to ram their vehicle, but were discharged after being treated for minor scratches and bruises.

According to the Italian newspaper The Republicthere were hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, and shop owners and waiters at a nearby cafe shoved tourists into their businesses and closed the door, while police tried to slow the car .

Nako’s motive for his rampage is still unclear, but it is believed to be the result of narcotics and a possible psychiatric episode, rather than tourism.

However, the incident has still put city police on high alert as the car driving wildly through a popular tourist area is reminiscent of past terrorist attacks involving cars driving into large crowds at tourist spots across the country. Europe.

In 2015 the Via della Conciliazione was closed to traffic, partly due to the increased threat of radical Islamic terrorism in Europe, and also for the safety of pilgrims queuing to enter the basilica during the Jubilee of Mercy 2015-2016.

At the same time, metal containers were removed from public bins, leaving only a clear plastic bag hanging over the edge, so its contents were visible and any potential explosives could be identified.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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