Got news? That plot to kill pope

So, did you hear the news about the plot in Italy to kill Pope Benedict XVI? You didn't? Really?

Actually, it appears that if you are interested in this kind of hard-news story you need to read "Catholic" news sources here in the United States, because it seems that this is "Catholic" news, rather than mainstream news.

Truth is, this is not a new story. In fact, I have been sitting on this "Got news?" item for quote awhile, thinking that I might eventually find a reference to the plot in some form of mainstream American media -- even in passing, in a weblog, or something. No dice.

Here is the top of the one mainstream wire service report, from Reuters. It is also interesting to note that this one short May 14 report came more than two weeks after the event in question.

Two Moroccan students deported from Italy last month were suspected of plotting to assassinate Pope Benedict, an Interior Ministry source said. ... Mohamed Hlal, 26, and Ahmed Errahmouni, 22, students at the University for Foreigners in the central Italian city of Perugia, had been under surveillance by anti-terrorist police for months before they were expelled on April 29.

"During their inquiry, investigators found evidence suggesting the two (suspects) were plotting an attack on the pope," said the source.

An interior ministry statement issued at the time of their deportation said they were being expelled under prevention of terrorism laws. Six other foreign students, suspected of contacts with militant Islamic groups, are still under investigation.

OK, I know what you are thinking. It's just some kids talking about wild plans. Well, the story does include the following interesting details.

News magazine Panorama ... reported ... that local anti-terrorist police had tapped Hlal's phone and had raised the alarm when he said he wanted to acquire explosives. The magazine said police discovered a map of Turin at Errahmouni's house annotated with numbers and circles, ahead of a visit to the northern Italian city by Pope Benedict on May 2 to venerate the Shroud of Turin, which many Catholics believe was Jesus Christ's burial cloth.

Panorama described Errahmouni as a computer expert who remained in contact with militant groups over the Internet. It said Perugia had become a centre for travelling imams to preach radical Islam.

The magazine report, pieces of which have appeared in Catholic news sites, did contain another interesting quote, care of the actual source in the Italian government:

"Hlal wanted to kill the Vatican's head of state (the pope), saying he was ready to assassinate him and gain his place in paradise," Italy's interior minister Roberto Maroni wrote in the expulsion order authorising Hlal and Ahmed's deportations. ...

Like I said, if you wanted to know more about this plot -- which, for some reason, was followed by expulsions, not criminal charges -- you needed to turn to websites such as Catholic Online, and the Catholic News Agency. These are the kinds of journalists who have an incentive, I guess, to cover this kind of unimportant, niche-news topic.

Actually, I can think of several logical reasons that might explain why this niche-news story received such small, or nonexistent, play in the American mainstream press.

* Everyone knows that it would be impossible for assassins or angry people to get close enough to a pope to be a real threat to his life.

* These kinds of threats against the pope may now be quite common in Europe. Thus, this is old news.

* Vatican officials were not anxious to respond to questions from journalists about the plot, in part because of their fear of inspiring copycats.

* This story does not appear to be linked to the ongoing scandal of sexual abuse of children and teen-agers by Catholic clergy.

* Journalists are worried about offending Moroccans or contributing to negative stereotypes of young, male Moroccans.

Just thinking out loud, here.

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