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As world leaders converge on Rome for the Papal funeral on Friday, the question of Vatican security will be high on the Holy See’s agenda. This will be especially so given the presence of President George Bush – the first US president to attend a papal funeral – at Friday’s ceremonies. Bush’s visit has been flagged well in advance and will involve his attendance at a highly visible and choreographed set of ceremonies to which hundreds of thousands of mourners will have access. This combination of factors places the US president within a predictable itinerary in proximity to large ‘un-vetted’ crowds of civilians within a confined space. In short, President Bush’s visit will pose a considerable security challenge for the US intelligence community and especially for his close protection detail. In light of the international terrorist threat posed by groups such as Al Qaeda, who have a penchant for striking during sensitive religious ceremonies – such as during the Shia Ashura celebrations in Iraq and Pakistan over the last two years – the US presidential party will have to rely on close co-operation with the Vatican’s security services in order to guarantee the president’s safety. In terms of internal security the Vatican - an autonomous independent state - has its own army in the form of the Swiss Guard. Consisting of approximately 100 men, the Swiss Guard is normally associated with its striking Medici-designed uniform, renaissance helmet and mediaeval halberd – a large axe-like weapon carried during ceremonial duties. Trained in the Swiss armed forces these troops will assume a high profile role during the funeral ceremonies in the coming days.
Clonan, T., 2005: Security At The Vatican City State, Dublin: The Irish Times.