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6 arrested in London over suspected threat to the pope

The pope is on a historic four-day state visit to Britain. On Friday, London police arrested five men suspected of preparing to attack the pontiff.

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 17, 2010; 3:25 PM

LONDON - British police arrested six men in London on Friday over a suspected threat to Pope Benedict XVI, who is on a historic four-day state visit to Britain.

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Officials said they received information overnight that prompted the arrests, though they would not comment on the scope of the threat. The men, ages between 26 and 50, were being detained under Britain's Terrorism Act.

Five were taken into custody at a garbage depot in central London. A sixth man was arrested later in the day at his home. None has yet been charged. Police said the five initially arrested in a predawn raid were suspected of "the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism."

Police declined to comment on the nationalities or religions of the suspects. The BBC reported that the suspects were of North African origin, not British citizens, and were subcontracted street cleaners in central London.

Initial searches of premises associated with the men did not uncover any hazardous material. Vatican officials said the pope was "calm." He is on the first papal state visit to Britain, which broke with the Vatican in the 16th century over its refusal to allow Henry VIII to divorce.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said church officials had no information on any potential plot and did not expect it to affect the pontiff's visit. Lombardi added that he felt "relaxed" about the way it was being handled.

British officials did not see the development as significant enough to raise the national threat level. The pope is already under heavy security while in Britain.

(WATCH VIDEO: Pope begins visit to Britain)

Benedict's trip to largely secular Britain has been controversial, sparking a flurry of negative media reports and planned protests. Benedict began his trip Thursday in Scotland, where he was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II and celebrated an open-air Mass.

On Friday in London, the pope met with the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who is the head of the Anglican Communion. The visit was seen as an attempt to mend fences after Benedict actively sought to recruit Anglicans angry about the ordination of gay and female clerics. The pope also addressed politicians and business leaders at Westminster Hall about the role of faith in public policy.

He plans to celebrate an open-air Mass in London's Hyde Park on Saturday and conclude his trip Sunday in Birmingham, where he is to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, an influential 19th-century Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism. Newman is on his way to becoming the first British saint since Pope Paul VI canonized the Scottish Jesuit martyr John Ogilvie in 1976.

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