Prosecutors in Italy have said an al-Qaeda linked group may have been planning an attack against the Vatican.             

Cagliari Chief Prosecutor Mauro Mura said that as well as planning to launch attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan the suspects may also have been aiming to target the Vatican.

Police conducted a series of raids across Italy today, targeting 18 people suspected of links with al-Qaeda.

Some were arrested, including the group's suspected spiritual leader, but others were believed to have left the country.

"We don't have proof, we have strong suspicion," said Mario Carta, head of the police unit leading the investigation when asked for more details on a possible attack against the Vatican.

He said that, in intercepted telephone calls, investigators had heard the suspects say they would launch a "big jihad in Italy," conversations that also suggested a target might be the Vatican.

All the suspects are Pakistanis or Afghans, Mr Carta said, adding that the operation was still in progress.