Toy Gun Sparks Pope Security Alert Amid Post-Paris Attack Jitters

Image: Pope Francis visits Lutheran church on Nov. 15, 2015
Pope Francis during his visit to a Lutheran church in Rome, Italy, on Sunday.ANGELO CARCONI / EPA

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By Claudio Lavanga and Alastair Jamieson

ROME, Italy — An American says he was briefly detained by police who mistook a toy gun and Halloween costume in his parked SUV for a security threat to Pope Francis.

Amid jitters across Europe following the Paris attacks, Ohio native Mike Barnett left his distinctive black vehicle on Rome's busy Corso Vittorio Emanuele II on Sunday night, according to a post on his Facebook page.

However, authorities checking the route of planned papal convoy spotted the imitation weapon and costume inside, triggering a security alert.

The pope was returning to the Vatican after visiting a local Lutheran church and his car was due to pass along the busy thoroughfare. Barnett, who lives in Rome, said his SUV attracted the attention of officers, who tracked him down.

Pope Francis during his visit to a Lutheran church in Rome, Italy, on Sunday.ANGELO CARCONI / EPA

“Well today was interesting,” he wrote in a status update. “Basically this dude parked his truck s***ty last night, the Pope had to come thru Main Street so added security made the cops check all the cars. Our Halloween costumes was [sic] still in the truck so the they assumed it was a bomb or something and we got kinda arrested for terrorism. Don't worry all good. Just a typical Sunday.”

Italian news site Il Messagero said police saw three weapons inside the SUV and thought they were Kalashnikovs similar to those used in Friday’s terror attacks in Paris.

The SUV was impounded and the weapons were determined to be “toy machine guns” after being examined by experts, the site added.

Papal officials took a different route and that the incident was one of many false alarms, including an unattended bag on a bus and a tourist carrying a drone, it added.

Barnett posted a selfie he said he took in the back of a police car with his friend, but later locked his account and did not respond to further requests for comment.