ROME, Italy — As the Islamic State gains strength in Libya and threatens to overrun Italy with immigrants, Italy finds itself exposed with no way to handle the onslaught.
Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti has said that the Libya situation is “out of control.”
Though Pinotti said that Italy is prepared to defend its seas, she also declared that “Italy cannot be alone to bear the costs of these operations that affect all of Europe.” She believes that once masses of people leave Libya, the problem becomes far more serious.
“The real issue is how to prevent people from leaving,” she said.
She also stated that “a group of smugglers has been formed, causing an increase in barges headed to Italy.” She suggested that the key would be to stop the human traffickers by eliminating their means of transport while still on Libyan territory, something that would require Libya’s permission.
Pinotti said that to destroy the barges “we need an agreement with Libya, something like what D’Alema had with Albania,” referring to a 1998 agreement between Italy and the Albanian government to prevent illegal immigration.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, told the Italian Parliament that the situation with Libya “is getting worse” and that “time is running out.”
Unlike the Defense Minister, Gentiloni is still pointing toward a diplomatic solution. “The only remedy is political,” he said. “We don’t want crusades.”
Gentiloni also underscored the risk of new coalitions of jihadists, with ISIS merging with locals. In Libya, he said, “there is a manifest risk of local groups and ISIS banding together.”
Nasser Kamel, the Egyptian Ambassador to London, stressed the need to act as quickly as possible to halt the advance of ISIS in Libya. “Sirte is only three hundred kilometers from Italy,” he said, with the risk of “boats full of terrorists” arriving on Italian shores in a matter of hours. Referring to the 2,164 migrants rescued at sea in one 24-hour period over the weekend, he described the present situation as an “exodus without precedent.”
While most of these refugees are crossing the Mediterranean for personal reasons, Kamel warned that “in the next few weeks, if we do not act together, they will be boats full of terrorists also.”
The president of Italy’s COPASIR (Parliamentary Committee for Intelligence and Security Services and for State Secret Control), Giacomo Stucchi, spoke on Tuesday of a “real risk” that “potential terrorists, even if uncoordinated, are hiding in departing boats.”
Even if Italy is managing to check arriving refugees now, Stucchi said, there is doubt regarding how much more they can handle. “I wonder,” he said, “whether we can ensure adequate controls in the case of mass arrivals, of maybe ten thousand in a day.”
According to an online essay written by an ISIS supporter, translated by a counter-extremism organization called the Quilliam Foundation, the possible number of illegal immigration trips from the long Libyan coast is “massive” and “it is easily possible to pass through Maritime Security Checkpoints and arrive in cities.”
On Monday, Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, said that Britain should debate whether or not to put ground troops there to stop the country “being exploited by fanatics.”
Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has called for a UN-backed international coalition to defeat ISIS in Libya on Tuesday, saying: “We will not allow them to cut the heads off our children.”
Al-Sisi said that “there is no choice” but to create a global coalition to confront the Islamist extremists in Libya.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter: @tdwilliamsrome.