Italy Ups Security on Artistic Treasures

ROME -- Italy has installed more metal detectors and X-ray machines as part of stepped-up security at cultural sites to protect its artistic treasures from terrorist attacks, the culture minister said Tuesday.

The new measures might result in longer lines, but they are necessary to ensure security following July terrorist attacks in London, Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He added that Italy's museums were safe.

"We have been evaluating in these last weeks the levels of protection," Buttiglione said at his offices in central Rome. "And when there is a potential danger we have introduced stricter security measures."

Cultural sites have been the target of attacks in Italy in the past.

A Mafia bombing in 1993 tore through a wing of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, killing five people. That same year, explosions also blamed on the Mafia hit a public art gallery in Milan and heavily damaged two art-rich churches in Rome, one from the 6th century and the other the pope's seat as bishop of Rome.

Authorities have reported no specific threats against cultural sites in Italy in recent years. However, in at least one case, suspected Islamic terrorists discussed attacking a 12th-century cathedral, the Duomo, in the northern city of Cremona. The suspects were arrested and convicted on terrorism charges earlier this year.

Italy heightened its security levels following the July 7 attacks in London, which killed 52 people and four suspected suicide bombers.

Security has been stepped up at airports, train stations, embassies and other sensitive sites across the country. Authorities have also focused on Italy's immense artistic heritage, which draws millions of visitors every year.

Buttiglione said new measures included "metal detectors, X-rays, the usual sort of things."

"I wish to say clearly: Museums in Italy are not in danger," he said. "You can come and visit our museums without any preoccupation for you personal security."

Last month, security was increased at the Colosseum, including metal detectors and closed-circuit TV cameras. Pilgrims and tourists already pass through metal detectors to get into St. Peter's Basilica.

Italian news reports have said in recent weeks that stricter security would be introduced in Italy's art-rich cities including Florence, Naples, Milan, Rome and Venice. Top Italian daily Corriere della Sera said measures would also include a ban on backpacks and bags.

In 2002, police suspected an attack was being planned against a Bologna basilica containing a 15th-century fresco that depicts the Muslim prophet Muhammad in hell, but no one was ever brought to trial.

Buttiglione said extra security measures might cause visitors "limited" problems.

"Just because we want to preserve high levels of security, we have to take new measures," the minister said. "This may create longer queues sometimes, but I think the visitors will understand and accept this."

(c) Associated Press