Pope threat prompts 6 arrests

Police have arrested six men because of a potential threat to Pope Benedict XVI, who is on the second day of a four-day visit to Britain.
Security surrounds Pope Benedict XVI as he rides in the popemobile from the British Houses of Parliament to Westminster Abbey in London on Friday. ((Gareth Fuller/Reuters))

Police arrested six men Friday because of a potential threat to Pope Benedict XVI, who is on the second day of a four-day visit to Britain.

At approximately 5:45 a.m. local time Friday, officers of the London Metropolitan Police Service's Counter Terrorism Command arrested five men on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, police said in a news release.

The men, aged 26, 27, 36, 40 and 50, were arrested under the terrorism act at a cleaning depot in central London, the release said. They were taken to a central London police station, where they were being interviewed by detectives, but they have not been charged.

The pope waves to the crowd as he arrives to attend a service of prayer at St. Mary's University College Chapel at Twickenham in west London on Friday. ((Peter Macdiarmid/Reuters) )

A sixth man, aged 29, was arrested Friday afternoon during a search of a home in north London, Reuters reported, citing police. No further details were provided.

The Pope was informed of the arrests, but wasn't worried and didn't plan to alter his schedule, said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Searches were being carried out at two business premises in central London and eight homes in north and east London. Initial searches have not uncovered any hazardous items, the police said.

Friday's initial arrests were made after police received a tip, police said. Initial inquiries by detectives led to a decision to arrest the men.

Police wouldn't provide details of their ethnicity or say whether the men are British. They confirmed that some of the suspects were thought to be from outside Britain but declined to comment on media reports that they were of Algerian origin.

The five detained men work for a contractor of Westminster Council, the authority responsible for much of central London, but police said the depot where the men were arrested is responsible for cleaning another part of the city that was not part of the Pope's visit.

Protesters and activists have previously been arrested under the terrorism act during high-profile events in Britain, such as economic summits and state visits.

Security arrangements for the Pope's visit were reviewed Friday, and police are satisfied with the current policing plan. The release added that there has been no change to the Pope's itinerary.

Serenaded by schoolchildren

On the second day of his visit, the 83-year-old pontiff was feted with gifts and songs Friday morning by thousands of Catholic schoolchildren before he gave an address at St. Mary's University in west London.

He told Catholic educators their role was fundamental in forming future generations who had faith and were responsible citizens. But he also reminded them they must "ensure that our schools provide a safe environment for children and young people."

Benedict began his visit on Thursday, greeted by Queen Elizabeth at Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh.

On Friday afternoon, the pontiff met with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Communion, at Lambeth Palace in the presence of Anglican and Catholic diocesan bishops. 

The Pope's main event Friday afternoon was a keynote speech to British politicians, businessmen and cultural leaders in Westminster Hall, where he discussed the need to restore faith and ethics in public policymaking.

On Saturday, he will celebrate mass at Westminster Cathedral and later address thousands at an open-air service in London's Hyde Park.

With files from The Associated Press