Italy will increase its air and naval deployments in the central Mediterranean Sea due to worsening threats from extremist groups in North Africa, the Local reported. Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinnoti told the defense and foreign affairs committee of the Italian Parliament that the deployments had become necessary due to the growing threat of terrorism, made clear by a deadly attack at a museum in Tunisia on Wednesday.
“North Africa has to represent our primary concern,” Pinnoti said. She said that increasing Italian naval units, protection teams, helicopters, planes and drones in the Mediterranean was necessary to defend Italian interests in the region and to maintain maritime security, including protecting communication and commercial shipping lines and increasing Italy's surveillance of potential terrorism threats.
Other Italian officials have also expressed increasing concern in recent months about the threat of possible attacks in Italy posed by the Islamic State group in Libya, just a few hundred miles from Italy across the Mediterranean. In 2014, more than 170,000 migrants flocked by boat from Libya and Turkey to Italy, and some Italian politicians have argued that for a militant to slip onto a boat carrying migrants, and land in Italy, would be all too easy.
In other ways the threat is more explicit. In February, a video from the Islamic State group, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, threatened “the nation signed with the blood of the cross” and warned that the group, in Libya, was just “south of Rome.” Italy subsequently heightened its state of alert, raising the number of anti-terror soldiers from 3,000 to 4,800 and closing its embassy in Tripoli. The Vatican also increased its security levels following the video’s release.
A top Libyan army officer said this week that Islamic State group militants are headed to Europe next, after the group has been gaining ground in North Africa. ISIS controls two cities in Libya and has claimed responsibility for the museum attack in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, on Wednesday, in which two Italian tourists were killed.