Man tries to jump into pope's popemobile

27-year-old German wrestled to the ground by Vatican security; Pope Benedict XVI unmoved.

pope prays 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
pope prays 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A German man tried to jump into Pope Benedict XVI's uncovered popemobile as the pontiff began his general audience Wednesday, and held onto it for a few seconds before being wrestled to the ground by security officers. The pope was not hurt and did not even appear to notice that the man had vaulted over the protective barricade in St. Peter's Square and grabbed onto the back of the white popemobile. At least eight security officers who were trailing the vehicle as it moved slowly through the square grabbed the man and pinned him to the ground. The pope did not look back. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, identified the man only as a 27-year-old German who showed signs of "mental imbalance." The man was questioned by Vatican police, before being taken to a hospital for psychiatric assessment. "His aim was not an attempt on the pope's life, but to attract attention to himself," Lombardi said. The man - who was wearing a pink T-shirt, dark shorts and a beige baseball cap and sunglasses - leapt over the barricade from what appeared to be the second or third row back. He held onto the pope's jeep for a few seconds before being pulled off by security guards. The jeep kept moving, the German-born Benedict kept waving and then proceeded with the audience as if nothing had happened. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Vatican has tightened security in St. Peter's Square when the pope is present. All visitors must pass by police to get into the square, with some going through metal detectors or being frisked by metal detecting wands. Nevertheless, virtually anyone can attend. Tickets can often be obtained at the last minute - particularly in good weather when the audience is held outside in the piazza. The vehicle the pope uses in St. Peter's Square is uncovered, while the one used outside the Vatican and on trips overseas is fitted with bulletproof glass. The pope is protected by a combination of Swiss Guards, Vatican police and Italian police. On Wednesday, the head of the Swiss Guards, Col. Elmar Maeder, walked along one side of the popemobile while the pontiff's personal bodyguard, Domenico Giani, took the other. Several plainclothes security officials trailed them. Benedict stood up behind the driver, holding onto a bar to steady himself, with his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, seated behind him. St. Peter's is cordoned off with wooden barricades to create "routes" that the popemobile can drive along to make the pope more visible to the crowd, which on Wednesday numbered some 35,000. From his perch on the jeep, the pope waves and blesses the crowd, and occasionally will bless a baby handed up to him by a security guard. The jeep never stops. There have been several reported attempts on the lives of recent popes. The most serious incident was the May 13, 1981, shooting of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square by Turkish citizen Mehmet Ali Agca. The pope was seriously wounded in the abdomen. Agca was caught and imprisoned and served his sentence in Italy before being transferred to his native country.