Isil fighters fleeing Libya hiding among refugees, says Italy
Published 15/08/2016 | 02:30
Isil fighters routed from their stronghold of Sirte in Libya are likely to try to enter Europe hidden among refugees crossing the Mediterranean in smugglers' boats, Italy has warned.
Hundreds of Isil fighters are fleeing Sirte after coming under sustained assault from Libyan forces and air strikes by US fighter jets.
"The scenario has totally changed and the risk that militants could flee to Europe by sea has substantially increased," said Giacomo Stucchi, president of a parliamentary committee that oversees Italy's intelligence services.
It is feared that if Isil succeeds in reaching Italy, fighters could plan attacks on targets in Europe.
"They are loose cannons, men on the run. We need to understand their intentions - whether they want to disappear without trace or whether they want to continue fighting in the name of their cause," said Mr Stucchi.
The warning was echoed by Pier Ferdinando Casini, the president of Italy's foreign affairs committee.
"There's always a risk of people trying to infiltrate in this way," he said. "But the priority for us was to liberate Sirte.
"This is a great victory for the forces of the coalition and the (UN-backed) government."
Libyan forces launched their offensive to reconquer Sirte in June. After weeks of house-to-house fighting, they recently captured several strategic locations formerly occupied by the terrorist group, including the Ouagadougou convention centre, a symbol of the extremists' control of the city.
Libyan officials claim that three-quarters of the city has now been liberated, a year after it was seized by Isil.
There was alarm in Italy in recent days when it was revealed that Isil fighters had left behind graffiti in which they described the city as "the port of the Islamic State - the starting point for Rome".
Isil has often boasted of conquering Rome and the Vatican as key symbols of Christianity, featuring images of St Peter's Basilica in its propaganda videos. (© Daily Telegraph, London)