An ISIS report, recovered by Libyan media in January, reveals that the Islamic State would be aiming at Libya “to get to Europe,” overrunning it with migrants to “turn it into hell.” According to the report, ISIS considers “illegal immigration” to be a privileged channel of access to the Old Continent.
Libya has become one huge port, a point of departure for Africans desperate to get to Italy, either to remain there or to head deeper into Europe. Italy fears that a wave of immigrants could land upon its shores, creating pandemonium.
Even prior to last Saturday’s slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians, warning signs had been appearing that Libya was to become the latest and deadliest outpost of the Islamic State. Libya’s institutional vacuum has furnished a welcome environment for terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda.
According to the former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, the Islamic State will control a territory on the Mediterranean coast “within two months” if the West does not intervene.
Droves have been arriving in Libya in recent months with the prospect of getting out of North Africa and are now crammed into ports, creating a situation of chaos. Among them are thousands of Egyptians fleeing for fear of being kidnapped or killed but who cannot return home because they would have to pass through areas already occupied by ISIS.
According to one report, analysts now believe that the risk of an attack on Italian territory is more concrete than ever before. The hypothesis considered most likely is that of a mass exodus of at least two hundred thousand foreigners loaded onto barges and sent to Europe.
A mere 300 miles separate Tripoli and Ragusa, Sicily’s southernmost city. Officials estimate that 90 percent of the landings of illegal immigrants in Italy are coming from Libya where the situation is “dramatic,” according to Mario Morcone, head of the Immigration Department of Italy’s Ministry of the Interior.
Last December, the prosecutor of Palermo opened an investigation into Sicilian immigration. The only thing certain, he said, “is that in 2014 there were 170,816 immigrants into Italy,” and of these, “only 66,066 are registered,” leaving another 104,750 unaccounted for.
“It is not by my choice or my idea,” said Italy’s Morcone, “but a European directive that allows asylum seekers to remain in the country, coming and going from welcome centers and working until their legal status is defined.”
Already this year there have been 58 landings of immigrants into Italy, totaling 6,176 persons between refugees and illegal immigrants. This means a 100 percent increase compared to the same period last year, during which there were already record arrivals.
On the Italian island of Lampedusa, numbers of asylum seekers now stand at twice the capacity of welcome centers.
Officials are worried that Islamist control of many areas of Libya means that they can infiltrate the hordes of immigrants at will, passing completely unnoticed.
On Sunday, men armed with Kalashnikovs threatened an Italian Coast Guard patrol boat in the midst of rescuing a boat with migrants on board, about 50 miles from Tripoli. The gunmen ordered the Italians to abandon their boat after disembarking the migrants.
Maurizio Lupi, head of the Ministry overseeing the Coast Guard, said that “an intervention of international institutions in Libya is critical.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.