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Rome tightens security for Easter amid terror scares

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Rome tightens security for Easter amid terror scares
Italian police on guard outside Rome's Colosseum in August 2017. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
14:35 CEST+02:00
Rome is on high alert ahead of Easter celebrations, amid terror warnings that have so far turned out to be false alarms.

Like Christmas, Easter is considered a period of elevated risk for the Italian capital, where thousands of people gather to watch the Pope celebrate the two biggest Christian festivals. 

Authorities have declared a "green zone" in the city centre from Thursday until Easter Monday, banning protests, parades, heavy vehicles and the transportation of weapons or explosives around Rome's main sights.

Security around government buildings and in busy pedestrian areas including shopping centres and stations will also be stepped up and Easter celebrations, including the Stations of the Cross prayers led by Pope Francis at the Colosseum on Good Friday, will be closely guarded.

IN PICTURES: Easter celebrations and festivals across Italy


Pope Francis leads the Via Crucis – Way of the Cross – on Good Friday 2017. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The capital's police stressed on Monday that extra Easter security had been planned for some time and was not a response to a terror alert in Italy over the weekend, which has since been withdrawn. 

The alarm was triggered by an anonymous letter to the Italian embassy in Tunisia on Sunday, which claimed that a Tunisian national was planning to carry out imminent attacks in Rome. The man named, 41-year-old Atef Mathlouthi, is not in Italy and was questioned at length by Tunisian police.

Italian authorities are satisfied that he is not "a real and present threat", Rome's chief of police said on Monday after a meeting to discuss the security situation in the capital, while adding that they would continue to investigate.

Mathlouthi used to live with his Italian wife in Palermo, Sicily, where he was arrested several times for drug offences and is now unable to return because of his record. His lawyer told the press that an acquaintance with whom he has a dispute over money may have sent the letter maliciously. 

There was another false alarm on Monday, when an anonymous phone caller warned of a bomb in Rome's Rinascente department store. Both branches of the shop were evacuated and checked for explosives; none were found. 

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