Italy is afraid defeated Islamic State fighters in Libya will infiltrate refugee flows and sail to Europe.
Libya is a major departure point for refugee’s from Syria because of the ease of access across the Mediterranean Sea. ISIS’s stronghold in Libya is under assault by the Libyan government and a new campaign of U.S. airstrikes. Libya is the largest ISIS affiliate outside of Iraq and Syria, with an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 fighters.
The Libyan military discovered graffiti on the walls of ISIS’s half-liberated capital reading, “the port of the Islamic State – the starting point for Rome.” Italy has been spared the persistent terror campaign in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, but has been a target of ISIS propaganda for nearly a year. ISIS propaganda focuses on destroying Roman Catholic architecture in Rome, including the Vatican.
“The risk that militants could flee to Europe by sea has substantially increased,” President of the Italian Intelligence Committee Giacomo Stuchhi told The Telegraph. “There is total chaos, and in trying to escape from Libya those who are not heading south (into the desert) could try to cross by sea to Europe.”
In July, Germany suffered two attacks by ISIS terrorists, both of which were carried out by refugees from war zones like Syria and Afghanistan. “German officials are scrambling to detect and disrupt future plots,” U.S.-based security firm The Soufan Group noted Wednesday.
Italy has reportedly beefed up its security screening at major Italian ports, as it grapples with millions of tourists in its busiest season.
A New York Times investigation revealed the presence of a vast support network of terrorists throughout Europe, largely composed of former fighters. With the loss of its capital in Libya, hundreds of fighters could deploy to Italy to lay the groundwork for attacks across Southern Europe.
ISIS has admitted it will probably lose its caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and has adjusted its propaganda message towards inspiring a global jihad movement. One ISIS operative inside Syria told The Washington Post the terrorist group has “people reaching out and telling us they want to come to the caliphate,” but elaborated that, “we tell them to stay in their countries and rather wait to do something there.”
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