Commander Christoph Graf said it may only be a matter of time before terrorists targeted Rome

The head of the Swiss Guards has said the elite corps that protects the Pope and the Vatican is ready to confront any terror attacks.

His remarks came after renewed threats against Rome by supporters of the Islamic State group following the Barcelona attack.

Commander Christoph Graf told Swiss Catholic website cath.ch this week that “perhaps it is only a question of time before an attack like that happens in Rome. But we are ready also for this.”

Authorities have long considered the Vatican a potential target, and security around the city-state has been increased significantly since the Year of Mercy launched in November 2015. The main road leading up to St Peter’s Square has been closed to traffic and uniformed police are out in greater numbers.

Elsewhere in Europe landmark churches have stepped up security. Blocks have been installed at the entrance to Cologne’s Catholic cathedral, according to the Daily Express, while security has been increased in Dresden after an image of its Lutheran Church of Our Lady appeared in an ISIS video.

The Swiss Guards, established in 1506, are one of the world’s oldest standing armies. Recruits are Swiss soldiers who enrol for at least two years and must be single, upstanding Catholic men younger than 30.