ROME, Italy– Rome has dramatically stepped up its security in the wake of last weekend’s slaughter of Christians in Libya and the Islamic State’s overt threat to the city. Outside of Rome’s US embassy on Via Veneto, increased security has been stationed, and machine guns have appeared in the hands of guards. A special security taskforce has been convoked to plan Rome’s response to escalating ISIS threats.
Italy closed its embassy in Tripoli on February 15, and Italy’s defense minister Roberta Pinotti said that the possibility of jihadists reaching Italy from Libya “cannot be ruled out.”
Rome’s police chief Giuseppe Pecoraro already requested an extra 500 military personnel earlier this year, and the city mayor Ignazio Marino has called for reinforced security for the city’s major monuments and churches, including the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the Vatican Museums. Rome’s Termini train station has also seen an increased security presence, along with shopping centers and subway stations.
The Islamic State released a video on Sunday showing the Islamic militants beheading 21 Egyptian Christians, in which the masked leader twice mentions Rome.
The video is titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” and the leader identifies their position as “on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya.” After the beheading, the leader says: “And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him.”
This is not the first time that ISIS has identified Rome as its primary target. Representing the center of global Christianity, Rome has long been in ISIS’ sights. But with a heavy presence in neighboring Libya, they seemed better poised to actually carry out their threats.
Internationally recognized Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al Thani has asked for military action against jihadist groups in Libya, or the ISIS threat “will move to European countries, especially Italy.”
Hamas has warned Italy not to get militarily involved in Libya under “the pretext of fighting terrorism.” According to senior Hamas official, Salah al-Bardawil, a military intervention would be considered “a new crusade against Arab and Muslim countries.”
Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Monday that his country is “ready to do its part” in military action in Libya to combat the Islamic State.
“The worsening of the situation now requires an extraordinary commitment and greater accountability,” Gentiloni said.
The foreign minister also commented on the recent closure of the Italian embassy in Tripoli, saying it took place “in a timely and orderly” fashion and was necessary “because of the deteriorating situation in Libya.”
Along with the possibility of direct terrorist attacks, ISIS has threatened to send “500 thousand immigrants into Italy from the Libyan coast” in the case of a military intervention in Libya. According to reports, the news comes from intercepted phone calls between jihadists, who would use immigration as a psychological weapon. One objective would reportedly be to provoke mass deaths at sea and thus destabilize the country.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.