Italy faces new Islamic State threat from Libya

ISIS threat ‘signed with blood against the nation of the cross’ follows release of video

Italian citizens hug after arriving at Practica di Mare military base near Rome, Italy, 16th February 2015. A group of around 60 Italians returned from Libya overnight after being evacuated because of security concerns about the advance of ISIS extremist Islamic group in the North African nation. Photograph: EPA/Massimo Percossi

Italian citizens hug after arriving at Practica di Mare military base near Rome, Italy, 16th February 2015. A group of around 60 Italians returned from Libya overnight after being evacuated because of security concerns about the advance of ISIS extremist Islamic group in the North African nation. Photograph: EPA/Massimo Percossi

 

Italians woke up on Monday to the worrying reality of a threat from Islamic State “signed with blood against the nation of the cross”.

Against the background of a video showing the apparent mass execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach, ISIS warned Italians: “You have seen us in Syria, now we’re right here, just south of Rome...”

The bloody film footage appears to confirm reports that ISIS has moved into parts of Libya, particularly around the capital Tripoli, which is 624 miles across the Mediterranean and south of Rome.

Prior to the threat, the Italian government had already warned Italians not to travel to Libya. The foreign office had organised a ship to evacuate Italian expatriates living or working in Libya.

The ship, the “San Gwann”, arrived in the Sicilian port of Augusta late last night, having been accompanied from Libya by an Italian navy vessel and by an Italian air force plane.

Libya is a former colony of Italy, particularly during the Fascist regime Benito Mussolini and modern Italian governments tend to be watchful of the North African country .

Speaking to Italian state TV on Saturday, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed his concern, saying:

“We’ve already said to the EU and to the international community that it is time to stop sleeping, that something very serious is happening in Libya and that just because we are the closest ones, the guys who pick up the boat people, don’t think you can leave all the problems to us.”

Mr Renzi called for a much reinforced UN mission to Libya, adding that Italy was ready “to play our part in defending freedom and human rights”.

The Renzi government believes that some sort of international peace-keeping force should urgently be sent to Libya: “Libya has to become an urgent international priority and Italy has a responsibility to urge this on the entire international community”, said foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni, who himself has been specifically threatened by ISIS propaganda.

Immigrants

Italy’s concern is focussed on the growing numbers of illegal immigrants attempting to cross into Italy from the coast of Libya.

Last week, more than 330 people are believed to have drowned when boats got into difficulty on the way to Italy. That incident has not halted the flow attempted crossings, with more than 2000 people in 15 different boats having to be rescued by the Coast Guard off Sicily on Saturday and Sunday.

Italian authorities are also concerned by an incident 50 miles from the Libyan coast, reported by Coast Guard operatives on Sunday, when armed men threatened a Coast Guard vessel while it was rescuing a people from a boat.

The armed men, equipped with Kalashnikovs, attempted to take the boat people ship just as soon as all the migrants had been transferred to the Coast Guard vessel.

In the meantime, Egypt’s air force struck multiple Islamic State targets near the eastern coastal city of Derna in Libya this morning in response to the released video.

A spokesman for Egypt’s military said Egyptian aircraft had targeted Islamic State training camps and weapons and ammunitions stores in a bombing raid around dawn on Monday.

In Rome, which has been on alert for some time now following a series of apparent ISIS threats against Pope Francis, there was no obvious increase in security arrangements.