ROME (AP) — Italian anti-terrorism police on Thursday raided the homes of eight people who allegedly advocated violence, particularly against journalists, in upcoming protests in Rome and elsewhere against the government’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements, officials said.
The eight had formed a group called “the warriors” on the Telegram messaging app, police said. The raids were carried out in Rome and five northern cities, including Milan and Bergamo, which has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19.
The eight are under investigation but have not been arrested or formally charged.
Police said the suspects were planning violence, including using home-made explosive devices, at rallies, particularly one this weekend in Rome by opponents of the so-called “Green Pass” certification.
Starting earlier this summer, the certification has been required to dine indoors, access gyms or attend crowded venues like concerts. This month the requirements were extended to domestic travel on planes, trains, buses and ferries, although local transport is exempt.
To obtain a pass, one must either have had at least one vaccine dose, have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months or have tested negative in the past 48 hours.
Milan anti-terrorism police chief Guido D’Onofrio said the suspects particularly wanted to target journalists. He told a news conference that they advocated use of violence including “blowing up trucks” operated by TV networks.
No explosives were found in the searches on Thursday, D’Onofrio stressed. Police found brass knuckles during the raids.
At an anti-vaccine rally last month, an Italian newspaper reporter was punched repeatedly in the face and needed hospital treatment. At another rally, a state TV reporter had to be rescued by police after a demonstrator pulled her by the hair.
Green Pass protests have been held sporadically for weeks around Italy. But while at the start some drew a few thousand participants, recent ones, including in Rome, were far more sparsely attended, sometimes by fewer than a dozen people.
Green Pass requirements also apply to teachers, principals and administrative staff. At universities, students as well as staff need the certification to enter the premises.
Nearly 73% of residents in Italy aged 12 or more — and thus eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine — are fully vaccinated. But virus experts are concerned that 20% of those older than 50 haven’t signed up for the vaccine.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic