Vatican (AsiaNews) –It was a banal incident. A small fire caused by two men while handling explosives. Fire brigade intervened, they attempted escape, and one was arrested. The subsequent search of the apartment brought to light cleric’s robes, timers and maps marking John Paul II’s travel itinerary for his pastoral visit to the Philippines. It was January 5th 1995: seven days later the Pope was due in Manila for World Youth Day celebrations.
Authorities drew a veil of silence over the event. Yet on the very day before his arrival, the then President Fidel Ramos spoke of two arrests without furnishing any details. The 12 policemen confirmed the arrest of 2 Pakistanis and a Moroccan on suspected of attempts to assassinate the Pope. Word was the three belonged to a group of 23 terrorists who had entered the Philippines in the previous months.
FBI agents arrived from the United States, the motive for their mission was revealed only weeks after the event on March 23rd. In fact on that day, the Manila Chief of Police Job Mayo laid charges against Ramzi Ahmed Yusuf, believed to be the chief mastermind behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre – for attempts to assassinate the Pope. The name of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed also appeared, as chief organiser of the failed attempt and other plans – the blueprints of which were found – to blow up American plans mid flight over the Pacific.
One of those arrested said there was a Saudi billionaire also in the group.
But at the time the episode had little effect on the Popes visit to Manila. On the 15th, a day of splendid sunshine, the John Paul II celebrated World Youth Day, before one of the biggest crowds ever to attend a public event: 4 perhaps 5 million people. No one has ever been able to calculate the exact numbers of people who gathered together in prayer and celebration. (FP)