Members of the Islamic State have been circulating disturbing photos of well-known Roman sites such as the Colosseum with handwritten cards held up in front claiming that ISIS is already present in Italy’s capital.
One such card, written in Arabic as well as English, proclaims bluntly: “Islamic State in Rome,” and is held up in front of Italian police vehicles. Another bears a handwritten caption in pigeon Italian stating that “we are on your streets.”
Still other photos show similar notes with images from other Italian cities, such as the Milan cathedral and an Expo Pavilion.
Though clearly meant to inspire fear, the photos have garnered mixed reactions from Italians, who seem well aware that anyone can hold up a note in front of a famous landmark without necessarily posing a real threat.
This is not the first time that ISIS has pointed to Rome, the heart of Christianity, as its target. Last year militants chose to publish an image of the black flag of ISIS flying atop the obelisk in Saint Peter’s square on the cover of their propaganda magazine Dabiq.
This latest wave of propaganda, however, follows closely on the heels of an alarm sounded by the Libyan government last week that Islamic State terrorists will be reaching Italy by mingling with the numerous African immigrants crossing the Strait of Sicily into the Italian peninsula.
A minister of the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tobruk warned last Tuesday that “in the coming weeks” jihadists linked to ISIS will infiltrate the boats of illegal immigrants heading to Italy.
“Italy will experience not only the arrival of poor migrants from Africa but also of barges carrying ISIS militants,” said the Libyan information minister, Omar al Gawari, who added that the infiltration aiming at “Malta and Italy,” will take place “via the ports dominated by Fajr Libya,” the coalition of pro-Islamic militias in power in Tripoli and in the west of Libya.
Similar statements have come from Abdul Basit Haroun, an advisor to the Libyan government, who told the BBC that smugglers were stowing Islamic State militants on boats carrying migrants.
Haroun claims to have based his statement on conversations with smugglers in parts of North Africa controlled by the militants.
Italian counter-intelligence officials have claimed that so far there has been no confirmation of such forecasts. Some observers, moreover, have suggested that the warnings seem intent on undermining Libya’s Tripoli government, a rival to that in Tobruk.
Italy’s Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano said that so far “we have found no trace of the presence of terrorists in boats. This does not mean that we have lowered our guard, and we remain on high alert.”
Some 60,000 people are estimated to have tried to cross the Mediterranean this year, of whom more than 1,800 are thought to have died.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome