Mexican chemistry student had planned to attack protest march against Pope Benedict’s visit, police say.
Spanish police have arrested a man suspected of planning a gas attack on marchers protesting against Pope Benedict’s visit to Madrid, which begins on Thursday.
José Pérez Bautista, a 24-year-old Mexican chemistry student, was arrested in the early hours of Wednesday. Police said he had declared on the internet that he intended to attack the march.
He planned to use “suffocating gases” and other chemicals, and tried to recruit others to help him, police said.
Bautista, from Puebla state, near Mexico City, was one of hundreds of volunteers recruited to help pilgrims arriving for World Youth Week, a festival organised by the Catholic church. He is a student at Spain’s Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Spain’s national scientific research organisation, and according to police had access to chemicals that could have been used in an attack.
A pen drive and notebook containing information about chemical processes not related to his studies were found in his flat, police said.
Police refused to say whether they believed Bautista was capable of mounting the attack, but said officers had been forced to taken online threats more seriously following the Norway shootings in July. Anders Behring Breivik boasted of his plans online before killing 77 people in Europe’s worst mass killing outside of war.
The protest march on Tuesday evening in central Madrid was organised by an association that included secularists, atheists and freethinkers. The visit is said to be costing the city some €60m (£53m) at a time when Madrid faces high unemployment and austerity measures.
The protesters complain that the government is contributing €25m to the cost of a religious festival. Although the majority of Spaniards are nominally Catholic, Spain has no official state religion.
Two hundred white confessional booths have been installed in Madrid’s Buen Retiro park as pilgrims from more than 100 countries descend on the city.
The archbishop of Madrid, Antoni María Rouco Varela, has urged pilgrims to join the priesthood in order to stem the tide of “rampant relativism”. He gave mass from an altar adorned with an image of the Virgin of Almudena, the patron saint of Madrid, and a flask of Pope John Paul II’s blood. The late pope, Benedict’s predecessor, was beatified in May.
by Stephen Burgen