In an interview with the newspaper Libero published on Thursday he said that political rivals question questioning his word over the plot were exposing Italy to the risk of further attacks.

Berlusconi, who owns top Italian soccer club AC Milan and sometimes watches them play at Milan's San Siro stadium, did not say when the plot was uncovered or if it was an ongoing threat.

"I am the subject of a direct threat. A suicide bomber in a stadium aiming for me," the paper quoted him as saying.

"But it is not a question of me. We're also talking about Italy. Aren't people worried about this?" he added in what the
conservative daily called a furious and bitter outburst. 

"We are talking about saving our country," he said. 

Unaware

A senior judicial source said the Milan prosecutors' office was not aware of any plot against Berlusconi, but added that the Italian secret services would not necessarily inform investigative magistrates of such a threat.

Berlusconi (L) and Bush met in
Washington on Monday

The interview came just days after Berlusconi said he had repeatedly tried to persuade his friend US President George Bush against invading Iraq, a comment that drew ridicule from opposition politicians. 

Berlusconi insisted he had never wanted war with Iraq and
said he hoped his words would be heard across the Arab world. 

"(I am) a leader who tried in every way to prevent the war,
who did not attack anyone and who is not at war," he said. 

Italy, a close US ally which sent 3000 troops to Iraq after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, has received numerous Internet threats purported to be from Islamic hardliners. Several threats have identified Berlusconi as a target.

Peacekeeping force

"Our troops in Iraq are not a force of occupation. They are a peacekeeping force operating under the aegis of the United Nations," Berlusconi said. 

Italy's Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said in July that terrorism was "knocking on Italy's door". He has since said Italy will be at most risk in the early part of next year when it holds the Winter Olympics and a general election. 

Berlusconi, who met Bush in Washington on Monday, said the
US president agreed with his analysis of his pre-war stance. 

"If journalists and opposition politicians loved Italy, then
they would have to recognise what I said (was true). They are
anti-Italian"

Silvio Berlusconi,
Italian Prime Minister

He added that those who scoffed at the idea that he tried to convince Washington not to attack Iraq were endangering Italy. 

"If journalists and opposition politicians loved Italy, then
they would have to recognise what I said (was true). They are anti-Italian," he said. 

"Their overriding consideration is hatred towards me. And
this runs counter to the truth and hurts the interests of our
people. Do they realise that they are exposing them to mortal
danger?" said Berlusconi. 

Cartoon

Berlusconi took particular exception to a cartoon on the front page of Corriere della Sera newspaper earlier this week that showed him and Bush roaring with laughter.

"So you said you were against the war," the US president says. 

He said he was also furious with Libero for calling him vain
after saying Bush wanted him to win the 2006 election. 

"I'm sorry for this outburst. I want you to know that I am a decent person who is not blinded by vanity, especially in such a serious moment as this," the prime minister said.