The Italian government is bracing for what it believes could be a coming influx of migrants and refugees sent north, across the Mediterranean Sea by the Islamic State, or ISIS.
The Daily Mail reports transcripts of telephone intercepts, originally reported by the Telegraph, indicating the terrorist group is considering plans to set some 500,000 Libyan and Egyptian refugees adrift in the Mediterranean Sea in hundreds of boats that would most likely be rescued by Italian rescue crews.
Such a launch, which would almost certainly overwhelm Italian rescue operations, would be a “psychological attack” against Italy if the country decides to intervene against ISIS in Libya, the transcript indicated.
Recently Italian defense minister, Roberta Pinotti, said that ISIS factions operating in northern Africa posed an “imminent” risk to Italy.
“We have been discussing this for months but now it has become urgent,” Pinotti is quoted as saying in Newsweek. “The risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us.”
News of the Islamic State plan follows the recent release of a video in which ISIS militants are shown beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Mediterranean beach. In the video one of the militants points north, across the sea, and promises to “conquer Rome.”
Many fear that if 500,000 Libyan refugees were allowed to come ashore in Italy there would be rioting in the streets to protest such an influx.
Others fear, as was recently reported in The Daily Beast, that jihadists could easily hide themselves among the migrants only to disappear into the European population and eventually carry out terrorist attacks on the continent.
In response to such fears the Italian government has promised to deploy 500 anti-terrorism police to sensitive historical and tourist sites in Rome.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also backtracked from his intervention rhetoric once news of the plan broke, saying that “it was not the time for military intervention,” in Libya.
Others dispute that, including former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who said Italy’s “biggest error” in the time since the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 was “lack of involvement” in Libya.