Vatican, Italy Step Up Security Over Threat Posed By Islamic State; Group Threatens To Use Libya As A Launching Pad, And Gateway To Southern Europe
Angus Mackinnon, writing for the February 19, 2015 edition of Agency France Presse, reports that “security at the Vatican, and throughout Italy, has been stepped up because of a perceived, heightened threat posed by the Islamic State.” “What happened in Paris with the Charlie Hedbo attacks could also happen at the Vatican. We are ready to intervene, to ensure Francis is protected,” Christophe Graf told Italian daily Il Giornale. The Italian government’s security committee, placed the country on a heightened state of alert last week; and, increased the number of soldiers on anti-terror, “safe streets,” duties from 3,000, to 4,800.”
Italian media reported last week, that “the site of the upcoming Expo 2015 World’s Fair in Milan, the Foreign Ministry in Rome, the Vatican, and synagogues across the country have been identified as prime potential targets for Islamic militants.” “The risk of an attack by a lone wolf, or an unbalanced person is concrete,” said Felice Casson, a Senator, and Secretary of the Copasir Parliamentary Committee — that oversees Italy’s Secret Services. “The more successful attacks in other countries are, the greater the risk of someone trying to emulate them in Italy,” he told La Republicca.
Mr. Mackinnon writes that “Italy has been swept up in rumors in recent days, after the posting of an Islamic State video, showing the group be-heading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. The tape includes a warning that Libya could be used as a platform for attacks on Italy, and that Islamic State fighters were….”at the south of Rome.”
“Some opposition figures in Italy have called for all naval search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean to be suspended….because of a much touted risk of terrorists using refugee boats, as a way of getting into Italy — to stage so-called lone-wolf attacks. The government admits it can’t rule out that happening; but, screening measures are in place to combat the risk; and, that it has yet to find any evidence the Islamic State attempting this. The government has also had to contend with a widely circulated claim that up to 200K African migrants in Libya are about to embark or, be ordered on ships departing for Italy,” Mr. Mackinnon wrote.
According to a recent report on Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, noted that “Italy, whose southern islands are only 186 miles from the Libyan coast, is certainly, extremely concerned about the threat posed by the Islamic State’s proximity to its own shores.” Italy’s Foreign Minister, Pablo Gentloni, warned on February 18, of a “grave threat” posed to European security by Islamic State militants in Libya. Gentloni told Parliament that there was “evident risk” of Islamic State gunmen forging ties with local militias, or criminal gangs, and warned that the situation risked destabilizing neighboring countries.”
“While there have been no confirmed reports of Islamic State militants using illegal immigration boat routes to enter Europe, Italian authorities are concerned about an incident February 15, when coast guard operatives were threatened by armed men, The incident occurred when an Italian Coast Guard vessel attempted to rescue people from a boat. The armed men attempted to take over the boat people’s vessel….after it had been emptied of migants,” Mr. Mackinnon observed.
Italian Foreign Minister Gentloni said “the rise in migrants in Italy in 2015 — a phenomena that has exacerbated anti-migrant sentiment in that country — is connected to the deteriorating security situation in Libya.”
Analyst Charlie Winter, who researches the Islamic State group at the Britain-based Quilliam think-tank, argued in the February 17, 2015 of London’s The Daily Telegraph, that “Libyan militants’ plan to use people trafficking boats as a way to access [or infiltrate] southern Europe — should not be ignored.” “Talk of terrorist infiltration into European cities through illegal [human] trafficking is not, it seems, just found in the rhetoric of politicians in Brussels. For the [Islamic State] group enthusiast, Libya is a “strategic gateway,” a launching pad for the disruption of “Crusader” shipping lines; and, a means of wreaking “pandemonium”in Europe’s southern cities,” Winter wrote.
So, what’s the bottom line. If I had an Italian vacation planned this summer to go to Italy and see the Vatican, the Roman ruins, and/or the wine country — I would still go; but, I would be more aware and attentive of my surroundings, and quick to report anything that seemed out of place, or made me uneasy. The overall threat to Italy from the Islamic State is more hype than reality; and, my guess is the Libyan, Islamic State militants are going to have their hands full maintaining their own grip on power in Libya. Could there, or will there be a Charlie Hedbo type incident in Italy in the coming months? Certainly the threat is there. But, unless you happen to be really unlucky and are in the wrong place at the wrong time — I certainly wouldn’t cancel my Italian trip any more than a trip to the Mall of America in Minnesota — otherwise, the bad guys win. V/R, RCP