Tunisian authorities have arrested nine Islamist extremists who attempted to board a rubber boat to reach Italy across the Mediterranean on Monday.
The nine suspected terrorists were part of a group of 15 migrants intercepted by the Tunisian Coast Guard and the counter-terrorist team of Bizerte, in the north of the country. The nine men, aged between 21 and 39, were handed over to the National Guard Unit investigating terrorism for questioning.
In June, Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry made known its displeasure over comments made by Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini, who suggested that the migrants coming from the North African country were not the continent’s best and brightest.
During a local election rally in Sicily for his League party, Mr. Salvini said that Tunisia “isn’t exporting gentlemen, it seems more often they’re exporting convicts.”
The Tunisian ministry told the Italian ambassador that Salvini’s comments revealed a “lack of understanding” of the agreements made between the two countries to prevent illegal immigration. This year Tunisians have been the largest group of migrants to reach Italian shores.
Mr. Salvini tweeted his vindication Tuesday morning, noting that Tunisian authorities had seized 9 Islamic extremists who were attempting to reach Italy.
“In the face of those who say ‘the terrorists don’t exactly arrive on barges…’ Will the Repubblica report this?” he said, referring to one of Italy’ best know mainstream newspapers that has been critical of the minister’s efforts to rein in illegal immigration.
Le autorità tunisine hanno fermato 9 ESTREMISTI ISLAMICI che tentavano di imbarcarsi su un gommone per raggiungere l’Italia.
Alla faccia di quelli che dicono “i terroristi mica arrivano sui barconi…”
Questo lo dirà Repubblica? https://t.co/8RuVXZyKCq
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) August 14, 2018
According to the European Union’s Frontex border control agency, around 1,900 migrants arrived in Italy in July, or 83 percent fewer than in the same month of 2017. In total, the number of migrants intercepted on the central Mediterranean route in the first seven months of 2018 decreased to around 18,200, or 81 percent less than in the same period of 2017.
The number of arrivals in Spain, on the other hand, has quadrupled and more than half (8,800) of the 14,900 migrants who arrived in the European Union in July landed on the Iberian peninsula. In the first seven months of the year, some 23,100 migrants were received in Spain, twice the figure from the previous year.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome