Italy warning of Isil blitz on Europe
Terrorists to use Libya as springboard for new campaign of attacks
Italy's foreign minister warned last night that 'time is running out' to stop Isil establishing a foothold on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Paolo Gentiloni said that there was a grave danger of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) fighters in Libya allying with other Islamist extremist groups, establishing a foothold on the shores of the Mediterranean from where they could attack Europe.
He said that the international community needs to forge a robust response to the growing threat just over 600km south of Italy. Rome has been particularly alarmed by the prospect of an Isil caliphate being established on the coast of Libya, which lies across the Mediterranean from Sicily.
"There is an evident risk of an alliance being forged between local groups and Daesh (Isil) and it is a situation that has to be monitored with maximum attention," the foreign minister told parliament, using the Arabic term for Isil.
Letters from Isil supporters which emerged this week showed the militants were planning a takeover of Libya as a "gateway" to wage war across the whole of southern Europe.
The fighters would then run amok in southern European cities and also try to attack maritime shipping, having got access to the country's supplies of weapons.
A document written by a prominent Isil propagandist outlines the plan.
Italy fears that the growing crisis in Libya will further fuel the flood of refugees and asylum seekers who travel to Libya from across Africa and the Middle East and then pay smugglers to transport them across the Mediterranean to Italian soil.
Last year, a record 170,000 arrived by boat, putting huge strain on the Italian navy, coast guard and immigration reception centres.
So far this year, a further 6,500 immigrants have reached Italian shores, including more than 700 children, according to the charity Save the Children.
"We find ourselves facing a country with a vast territory and failed institutions and that has potentially grave consequences not only for us but for the stability and sustainability of the transition processes in neighbouring African states," the minister added.
"The time at our disposal is not infinite and is in danger of running out soon."
Italy has vital strategic and commercial interests in Libya, its former colony, but has no intention of launching military action on its own.
Mr Gentiloni said that despite the urgent threat presented by Isil, which has boasted of its ambition to "conquer Rome, by Allah's permission," the Italian government was in favour of greater efforts to broker a ceasefire and find a political solution to the deteriorating situation.
It was not seeking a repeat of the military operation led by Britain and France in 2011, when air strikes helped topple and kill Col Muammar Gaddafi, precipitating regime change that has led to the chaos sweeping the country today.
"Saying we are on the front line does not mean announcing adventures or crusades," the foreign minister said.
Egypt is pushing for air strikes to be launched against Isil training camps and strongholds in Libya, just as a US-led coalition is hitting the extremist terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
Having established a presence in Libya, Isil reportedly suffered a setback yesterday, with Libya Dawn, the Islamist-backed faction in Libya's civil war, claiming to have pushed the terrorist group out of the coastal city of Sirte.
Four years after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya is a nation divided and spiralling into chaos.
Rival militia-backed parliaments have been unable to exert control over vast swathes of territory, providing fertile ground in which Isil and other militant groups have gained a foothold.
Isil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has recognised the Libyan "provinces" of Barqa in the east, Tripolitania in the west, and Fezzan in the desert south as belonging to his self-styled "caliphate."
Although details of the group's strength remain murky, particularly in Fezzan, Isil supporters have been making an aggressive case for expansion in Libya.
Meanwhile, security in Italy was been bolstered in response to the increasing Islamist terrorist threat, as well as the 'Charlie Hebdo' attacks in Paris.
The government will increase from 3,000 to 4,800 the number of soldiers deployed on the streets on anti-terrorism duties.
Security for Pope Francis has also been upgraded, the Swiss Guard said.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)