ISTANBUL, Turkey – Police on Thursday detained a man who fired shots into the air outside the Italian consulate to protest an upcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI, and the suspect later told television he wanted to "strangle" the pope with his bare hands.
"I don't want him here, if he was here now I would strangle him with my bare hands," the suspect, who identified himself as Ibrahim Ak, 26, told a Dogan news agency television camera as he was detained by police.
"I fired the shots for God," Ak said as he sat handcuffed inside a police van outside the consulate. "Inshallah (God willing), this will be a spark, a starter for Muslims."
"God willing, he will not come, if he comes, he will see what will happen to him Inshallah," Ak said.
Benedict is scheduled to visit Turkey between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1.
It would be Benedict's first visit as pope to a predominantly Muslim country, just two months after he provoked widespread anger by quoting an emperor who characterized the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman."
The pope has since expressed regret for offending Muslims and called for dialogue with Islam.
"That shameless, dishonorable pope will not come to this country!" Ak shouted as police escorted him to a nearby police station in the crowded Beyoglu district for interrogation.
Security guards and police said the protester had tossed his gun into the garden of the Istanbul residence of the consul general, which is in the same compound as the consulate building, after firing at least two shots.
"I'm a Turkish citizen but before that I'm a Muslim," Ak said.
The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, characterized the shooting incident as "an isolated fact, marginal, which won't have any influence on the preparations or climate surrounding the trip."
"This trip was long desired by the pope," Lombardi told The Associated Press in Rome by telephone.
Lombardi added that he expected that the detailed program of the pilgrimage would be made public by the Vatican in a few days.
The spokesman referred to a Vatican statement earlier Thursday which sought to play down suggestions that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was snubbing Pope Benedict XVI by attending a NATO meeting abroad during the pontiff's trip.
"A negative interpretation from the Holy See's point of view is not justified," Lombardi said.
Radical Islamic groups who strongly opposed the pope's visit had called on the Islamic-rooted government to cancel the trip.
The government did not bow to the public pressure, but the Turkish premier will not be in the country when the pope arrives. Erdogan was scheduled to attend a NATO summit scheduled for Nov. 28-29 in Riga, Latvia, and had not been scheduled to meet the pope.
Turkish authorities were planning to dramatically increase security during Benedict's visit, but Thursday's incident is also likely to prompt authorities to improve the security around Italian diplomatic missions and interests in the country soon.