September 18, 2010 in Nation/World

Pope unfazed by terror plot arrests

David Stringer Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Pope Benedict XVI, left, accompanied by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, arrives at the Westminster Abbey in London Friday.
(Full-size photo)

LONDON – Police raided a garbage depot and arrested street cleaners in a suspected terror plot against Pope Benedict XVI on Friday. Undeterred, the pontiff stuck to his message, reaching across Britain’s religious and secular divide to demand a greater role for faith in public life.

Despite the six arrests, the pope did not alter a schedule rich in symbolism in this officially Protestant country with a history of anti-Catholicism: He prayed with the archbishop of Canterbury and became the first pope to worship in Westminster Abbey.

Benedict also addressed political, cultural and business leaders in Westminster Hall, for centuries the center of British political life, asserting “the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”

Among those in attendance were Tony Blair – a prominent convert to Catholicism – as well as former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Gordon Brown.

Benedict was informed of the pre-dawn arrests while visiting a Catholic college, the first stop on the busy second day of his state visit.

Five of the suspects were street cleaners arrested at a garbage depot in central London and a sixth was picked up later in the day. All six were arrested “on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” Police said they ranged in age from 26 to 50, and media reports said some were Algerian, though authorities would not confirm that. All six were being questioned and had not been formally charged.

The street cleaners worked for a contractor on behalf of Westminster Council, the authority responsible for much of central London, including the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and other sites on the pope’s itinerary Friday.

Hours after the arrests, Benedict met with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Benedict and Williams greeted each other warmly, with the pope saying he had no intention of speaking of difficulties “that are well known to everyone here.”

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