ROME – Italy closed Genoa's airspace during the Group of Eight summit in July because it had information of an airborne threat against President Bush by Islamic extremists, according to Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini.
Several news reports in the weeks before the July 20-22 summit said Usama bin Laden had threatened to assassinate Bush at the Genoa gathering.
Fini has since elaborated on the threats, saying Italian authorities took unprecedented security measures at Genoa — including closing the airspace and mounting a short-range, anti-aircraft battery at the Genoa airport.
"Islamic extremists were said to be trying to hit Bush in the air," Fini told the Italian newsweekly Panorama, which released excerpts from the interview Wednesday. Fini also mentioned the airborne threat in a TV appearance last week.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the White House "was aware of information" about a threat and referred reporters' questions to the Secret Service. "As with all threats against the president, the White House does not comment on them," Fleischer said Wednesday.
Over the weekend, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Egypt had passed on information to Washington about a G-8 threat following a June 13 video made by bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
"He had spoken of assassinating President Bush and other heads of state," Mubarak told the French daily Le Figaro.
"But no one had imagined that Boeings filled with passengers would slam into buildings,'' he told Le Figaro.
In June, just before the Genoa gathering, the head of Russia's Federal Bodyguard Service also said it was investigating apparent threats on Bush by bin Laden, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
The Secret Service said then that it was aware of the reports and would take "the same precautions it always takes when the president travels abroad."
Bush made an official visit to Rome after the Genoa meeting, but other world leaders did not.
Mubarak later added a disclaimer to his comments Monday night, telling France-3 Television that he had only heard of the bin Laden threat from published reports.
"It was publicly said. I didn't hear it privately — it was in the newspaper," he said.