Preparations for Pope Benedict XVIs first visit to Turkey at the end of November are going ahead despite a series of security issues, according to Vatican authorities. On 3 October, the Turkish press printed a message from Al Qaeda threatening any Muslims who play host to the pope in Turkey, including state authorities. On the same day, a Turkish national flying from Tirana in Albania to Istanbul hijacked the plane and demanded that it land in Italy so he could deliver a letter to the pope, sparking fears of a terrorist attack. After the plane landed safely in Brindisi, the man was found to be unarmed and is thought to have been trying to enlist the popes help to avoid national service in Turkey. A Christian convert, the man said he did not want to fight in a Muslim army.
The incidents follow the popes speech at the university of Regensburg on a trip to Bavaria on 12 September in which he quoted a 14th-century orthodox Christian emperor saying the prophet Muhammed had brought the world only evil and inhuman things, causing widespread outrage across the Muslim world. The pope subsequently apologized for the upset.
The last pope, John Paul II, was shot four times on 13 May 1981 by a Turkish national in St Peters Square. His would-be assassin, Ali Agca, has warned the current pope not to make the trip to Turkey, which is currently scheduled from 28 November until 1 December. Turkeys population is 98 per cent Muslim, with a 100,000-strong Christian community as well as orthodox Armenians and Jews making up the remaining two per cent. Membership negotiations with the countrys government for entry into the European Union began in October 2005.