ucanews.com reporter, Manila
Updated: September 25, 2014 09:49 PM GMT
Worried Philippine Catholic bishops on Friday called on the government to provide comprehensive security to ensure the safety of Pope Francis when he visits the country in January next year.
The bishops’ call comes amid reports that supporters of the group Islamic State (IS) are threatening to assassinate the pontiff during an overseas visit.
Habeeb Al Sadr, Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, last week warned that IS is planning to kill the pope during one of his overseas trips.
"What has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear — they want to kill the pope. The threats against the pope are credible," Al Sadr was quoted by the Italian newspaper La Nazione as saying.
"This [report] should not be taken lightly. It's extremely alarming," Bishop Martin Jumoad of Basilan said in a Philippine bishops’ conference statement issued on Friday.
Its essential that precautionary measures for the safety of Pope Francis are implemented the bishops said.
President Benigno Aquino announced during a trip to the United Nations General Assembly this week that Philippine security forces will "double their efforts" to protect the pope.
"I want to see them double their efforts especially for the head of the Holy Mother Church. There shouldn't be any incident while he's in our country," Aquino told reporters in New York.
The Philippine military says it is "preparing a very elaborate security plan" for the papal visit.
"We won’t fail the pope," armed forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang told a Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum earlier this month.
Catapang said the military is in the process of crafting security measures.
"It's safe here to visit," Catapang said when asked about the safety of the pontiff.
Of major concern are the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the southern Philippines that have pledged support for IS.
Media reports say dozens of Filipinos have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for IS.
Pope Francis is set to visit the Philippines from January 15 to 19, 2015.