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Man jumps over security barrier, grabs onto popemobile during Pope Benedicts audience
ITALY VATICAN POPE 6779149
In this photo made from video, a man dressed in red shirt and tan colored baseball cap jumps over a protective barricade as he tries to climb into the back of the Pope's open air vehicle on Wednesday, June 6, 2007. The pope was not hurt and did not appear to notice that the man jumped from the barrier and was wrestled to the ground by security officers. - photo by Associated Press
VATICAN CITY — It was a sunny day, and thousands of faithful crowded onto St. Peter’s Square to cheer Pope Benedict XVI at his weekly Wednesday audience.
    The 80-year-old pontiff emerged on his open-air, white popemobile to drive through the throng while a contingent of security men walked alongside. People snapped photographs and reached out, trying to touch the passing pope. Benedict smiled and waved blessings.
    Then a frightening spasm of action: A man wearing pink T-shirt, dark shorts, beige baseball cap and sunglasses jumped a security barrier and grabbed the back of the pope’s vehicle before being pushed to the ground by guards.
    The piazza seemed flung back in time to that horrible day in 1981 when Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca severely wounded Pope John Paul II in the abdomen.
    The outcomes were vastly different, but Wednesday’s incident revived the debate over whether the pontiff needs stronger protection during his public audiences.
    Benedict was not harmed and appeared not to even notice, never looking back as he waved to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. But security analysts said he exposes himself to undue risk by appearing at the same place and time each week in an open jeep.
    ‘‘If he cannot change the route or the hour, he must use at least a protected car,’’ said Claude Moniquet, head of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a Brussels-based think tank on security issues.
    The man vaulted onto a wooden barrier and then over in an apparent attempt to get into the white popemobile. One guard grabbed him as he leaped, but the man managed to catch hold of the vehicle before security men trailing the car pinned him to the ground.
    Benedict didn’t flinch. The German-born pope continued waving and blessing the cheering crowd of some 35,000 people as his jeep kept moving slowly forward and the audience proceeded as if nothing had happened.
    The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the man was a 27-year-old German who showed signs of ‘‘mental imbalance.’’ He declined to identify him.
    ‘‘His aim was not an attempt on the pope’s life but to attract attention to himself,’’ Lombardi told reporters.
    The man was interrogated by Vatican police and then taken to a hospital for psychiatric treatment, he said.
    Moniquet, a security expert who has written about protecting heads of state, said leaders like the pope have to balance proximity to the public with their own need for security in today’s violent world.
    But unlike other leaders who make occasional forays into the public domain, the pope has a regular appointment with the faithful each Wednesday morning — precisely the type of routine that security guards try to avoid.
    ‘‘The fact is you cannot ensure 100 percent protection,’’ Moniquet said. ‘‘It’s around the Vatican. It’s a ritual. I’m afraid there are not a lot of options’’ other than an armored car.
    Nevertheless, Vatican officials said there were no plans to change the long-standing use of open vehicles for the weekly audience at the Vatican. When the pope travels abroad, he does use a popemobile outfitted with bulletproof glass.
    Moniquet noted that people go to the audiences to see the pope, saying that would still be possible with bulletproof glass. But such protection would prevent the pontiff from blessing babies that are occasionally passed to him by his guards, as he did Wednesday.
    Since the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S., 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 scanned 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.
    St. Peter’s Square is cordoned off with wooden barricades to create lanes for the popemobile to cruise through the crowd and make the pope more visible to the throngs.
    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 Benedict’s personal bodyguard, Domenico Giani, took the other. Several plainclothes security officers 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.
    Asked why the pontiff didn’t react to the disturbance, Vatican officials noted that the incident occurred quickly, that there was a lot of noise in the piazza and that the popemobile kept moving.
    The officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, said no extra security measures were being considered for Thursday, when the pope planned to take part in an annual religious procession outside the Vatican walls in central Rome.
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