In this photo released by the Italian Air Force, an F16 patrols the air space above Rome on Thursday ahead of Pope John Paul II's funeral.
updated 4/8/2005 2:10:35 PM ET 2005-04-08T18:10:35

Heavy security covered Rome for Pope John Paul II’s funeral Friday, with police helicopters and air force combat jets patrolling the skies. Authorities used X-ray machines to screen pilgrims’ bags, and hundreds of officers guarded the roads leading to St. Peter’s Square.

Elite members of the Carabinieri, Italy’s police force, were stationed at virtually every major intersection in Rome, part of the capital’s efforts to minimize the threat of a terrorist attack on the more than 80 heads of state and monarchs attending the Mass.

Italian combat jets guarded against any strike from above on the leaders and top Roman Catholic prelates assembled in St. Peter’s Square.

About three hours after the funeral ended, an Italian F-16 fighter jet intercepted a suspicious plane heading to Rome’s Ciampino airport and escorted it to a local military airport, an Air Force spokesman said.

The plane was forced to land after intelligence sources warned it was carrying a bomb, the spokesman said. He would not say whether the intelligence came from an Italian or a foreign source.

However, a team of paramilitary carabinieri officers inspected it and found nothing.

'The safest place in Italy'
“We started from square one, saying this has to be the safest place in Italy,” said Maj. Gen. Luciano Massetti, the air force deputy commander and chief-of-staff, describing the elaborate security measures in place Friday.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen in Italy such a large effort to protect a single place,” he said. Massetti said authorities worked from a worst-case scenario, “meaning threats coming from the sky — fast threats from different directions.”

Motorcades carried VIPs to the square in rapid succession, the leaders out of view inside limousines with tinted glass.

Bishops and pilgrims alike were walked through metal detectors set up beneath the colonnades at the entrance to St. Peter’s Square, and bags and purses were being screened by officers using X-ray scanners.

As the security measures slowed the line of faithful trying to reach the square, some pilgrims booed and whistled in protest.

A ban on car and truck traffic was imposed starting at 2 a.m. Friday and was to remain in place until 6 p.m. — a measure designed to help seal off Rome, whose population of 3.7 million was doubled by the extraordinary influx of pilgrims.

8,000 security agents
At Rome’s police headquarters, which was coordinating funeral security with other law enforcement agencies, officers monitored more than 50 large surveillance screens linked to remote cameras letting them zoom in on anything suspicious at St. Peter’s and other key locations.

Rome Police Chief Marcello Fulvi said about 8,000 security agents were in place for the funeral, including 2,000 uniformed police officers patrolling St. Peter’s and the boulevard leading up to it. Some 1,400 plainclothes officers were also in the streets.

Italy’s security agencies posted snipers on rooftops, and a navy warship armed with torpedoes cruised the coastline near Rome. Anti-aircraft rocket launchers were placed strategically around the capital, cocked at the sky and ready to thwart any airborne attack.

An AWACS surveillance jet patrolled the skies above Rome, deployed by NATO at the request of Italian authorities.

Air space within a five-mile radius of Rome was closed during the funeral, and traffic at Rome’s main Leonardo Da Vinci Airport was reduced. On Thursday, officials shut down Ciampino Airport, which is used for both civilian and military flights.

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