Could migrant boats going from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe be used as weapons of war?
Apparently, the answer to that question might be “yes.” Propaganda released by ISIS speaks of plans to use Libya as a base to cause chaos in Europe by hijacking boats that cross the Mediterranean Sea.
An article written by a supporter of ISIS said Libya is the “strategic gateway for the Islamic State.” It was translated by counter-extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation.
According to the think tank, an article dated Jan. 23 that purportedly comes from the ISIS supporter explains this is “why jihadists needed to urgently flock to Libya to assist supporters of the so-called caliphate in their jihad.” The article was written weeks before the release of a video that allegedly shows ISIS militants beheading 21 Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach.
The translated extremist article says that from Libya’s long coastline, Europe can be reached with ease “by even a rudimentary boat, and note that the number of ‘illegal immigration’ trips from this coast is massive, estimated to be as high as 500 people a day, as a low estimate.”
“According to many [of these immigrants], it is easily possible to pass through Maritime Security Checkpoints and arrive in cities. If this was even partially exploited and developed strategically, pandemonium could be wrought in the southern Europe. It is even possible that there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of Crusader ships and tankers,” it adds.
As Quilliam notes, the document should be taken as unofficial ISIS propaganda, but it contains alarming assertions. Western powers should take this issue on “holistically,” adding that “terrorism is, by its very nature, asymmetric,” said the think tank.
“Bombing Islamic State without having a concerted approach to tackling its funding, recruitment, and extremist radicalization of all kinds will not have lasting results.”
Meanwhile, about 400 mostly Yemeni and Tunisian fighters are in Sirte, according to Libyan Interior Minister Omar al-Sinki. He said Islamic State fighters have set up headquarters in the city’s convention complex, the Ouagadougou Center, built by former dictator Moammar Gadhafi as a symbol of his secular regime’s aspirations to be a pan-African leader.
An Associated Press reporter who briefly visited Sirte on Wednesday saw masked militants deployed along the main road linking the convention center to downtown.
The close connection between the Libya branch and the central leadership around Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi underscores the strategic importance of the North African country to the group. Libya boasts oil resources — something the extremists have exploited for funding in Iraq and Syria. There are vast amounts of weapons and a legacy of the turmoil since Gadhafi’s 2011 ouster. Its borders with Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria are porous.
The southern shore of Italy is about 400 miles (660 kilometers) away, a distance Libyans fleeing their country’s chaos regularly try to cross in rickety boats. Italy and France favor some sort of international action in Libya, while Egypt is pressing for a U.N.-backed coalition air campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.