A patrol boat allegedly opened fire on a raft carrying about 130 migrants off the coast of Libya on Monday, killing one and leaving another injured. According to witnesses from the raft, members of the Libyan military patrol were attempting to rob the passengers, but when they resisted, the militia answered with several rounds of gunfire.
This weekend, over 2,500 migrants on board fifteen different boats were rescued off the Libyan coast in salvage missions coordinated by the operations center of the Coast Guard in Rome.
The injured man, a thirty-two-year-old native of Gambia, was transferred by helicopter first to a hospital on the island of Lampedusa, and then on to the Palermo Civic Hospital, where he is being treated for a gunshot wound in the left calf.
The man told state police their boat was headed to the Italian island of Sicily from a port in Libya, and on board, there were 120-130 people.
“Members of the Libyan militia pulled up alongside us with their patrol boat and tried to rob us. When we resisted they began shooting at us. I was injured and another migrant died,” he said.
Another hypothesis investigators are studying is that migrants might have been attacked while they were still on land.
Meanwhile, the public prosecutor of Agrigento has opened a formal investigation into the case against persons unknown. “The alleged offense is murder and attempted murder, but we still have to understand all the circumstances that revolve around the case,” said Agrigento’s chief prosecutor, Renato Di Natale.
State police coordinated by the prosecutor of Agrigento have begun taking witness testimony in an attempt to reconstruct the scene. The file remains open, however, currently against persons unknown.
An official from the Libyan coast guard has denied that either his men or any other Libyan military shot at a raft of immigrants. “The Libyan coast guard does not ever shoot at boats of migrants and also the Libyan navy did not fire,” said Col. Reda Issa, commander of the patrol of the Libyan Central Sector.
The number two anti-immigration Authority of Libya, Mohamed Abu Breida, has demanded that EU anti-immigration operations be coordinated with Libyan forces. “The European Union must necessarily coordinate with Libya,” Breida said, “because moving against barges in Libyan waters would be a flagrant violation of sovereignty.”
“European countries have to try to promote economic projects in the countries of origin of the migrants to provide employment to local people,” he said.
A ship carrying 298 rescued immigrants, along with the body of the man killed, is expected to arrive Tuesday in Pozzallo.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.