ROME - Italy's interior minister warned on Tuesday that the country could be a target for Islamic State militants, as a symbol of Western civilization and an ally of the United States.
Italy, a NATO member, has said it will help arm Iraqi Kurds fighting Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, and it took part in talks with the United States last week about how to defeat the group.
“The principal target of IS remains the West and every symbol that represents it -- historically, politically, culturally,” Angelino Alfano said in testimony to the lower house of parliament.
Alfano said he had no knowledge of concrete plans for an attack, but among Western countries, Italy “is not a secondary” target.
Rome's history as a cradle of Western civilization and its status as home to Pope Francis, the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church, also make it a potentially symbolic target, he said.
Alfano said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had mentioned attacking Rome in recent speeches and video messages, and his words could be taken literally by “weak minds and easily influenced” followers.
Westerners fighting with the IS are estimated to number about 2,300. Alfano said 48 “with at least some link to Italy” had gone to fight.
Italy has increased its border surveillance and is monitoring the Internet to identify anyone who might be trying to recruit fighters for IS, according to Alfano.