The Islamic State group may be planning to use Libya as a staging ground to send boatloads of jihadi militants posing as migrants to flood southern Europe, create “pandemonium” and close down shipping lines, according to a recruiting document circulating among the group’s fighters.
The document, titled “Libya: The Strategic Gateway for the Islamic State,” describes how important some members of the militant group believe Libya to be due to its proximity to Europe and its vast arsenal of weapons that could potentially be seized by the group.
The January document was translated this week by the U.K.-based Quilliam Foundation, which tracks extremist militant groups.
The document points to Libya’s coastline that “looks upon the southern crusader states, which can be reached with ease by even a rudimentary boat" and the “massive” number of efforts at sea-based illegal immigration by North Africans, which could help conceal militants infiltrating Europe.
Citing the experiences of past immigration efforts to Europe by boat, the document says: “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 says. “It is even possible that there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of crusader ships and tankers.”
This map showed the proximity of the Libyan coastline to southern European ports. (Image source: Quilliam Foundation)
The British newspaper the Telegraph identified the author of the document as Abu Arhim al-Libim, an Islamic State group propagandist who is believed to be an important online recruiter for the group’s Libya affiliate.
The Telegraph reported that more than 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy by boat last year, many of them Syrians fleeing the civil war.
The Islamic State group’s aims on Italy were demonstrated over the weekend when the “Tripoli Province of the Islamic State” posted video evidently showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach.
Pointing north toward Italy, one of the jihadists said in the video, "We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission." The southern tip of Italy sits about 500 miles from Libyan territory controlled by the Islamist militant group.
The recruiting document pointed to the many benefits of expanding the territory it controls in Libya, including the majority Sunni population and its “strategic position and immense potential.”
Besides the proximity to Europe, the author eyed key African nations as well: “Libya looks upon the sea, the desert, mountains, and six states: Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia.”
The document cited articles in the Western media on the vast repository of weapons in Libya “including rockets, projectiles, guns and small quantities of chemical compounds like yellow cake uranium, the latter of which was still present in Libya even after the cancellation of [late President Moammar] Gadhafi’s nuclear program.”
Quilliam described the document as “unofficial” and authored by a prominent supporter of the group. While it should not “be taken as absolute fact,” it did offer insight into the possible future plans for the militant jihadist group which could help policymakers and European law enforcement plan how to tackle the challenge.
Adding to the value of the document, Quilliam noted that it was not intended at intimidating a Western audience, rather was aimed to be circulated within the group to encourage Islamic State members to travel to Libya to fight.
The Telegraph quoted former MI6 head John Sawers, who said Britain should consider sending ground troops to Libya to stop it from "being exploited by fanatics."
Egyptian Ambassador to the U.K. Nasser Kamel was quoted by the Telegraph warning Britain prepare for “boats full of terrorists.”
"Those boat people who go for immigration purposes and try to cross the Mediterranean ... in the next few weeks, if we do not act together, they will be boats full of terrorists also," he said.
Egypt launched airstrikes on militant targets in Libya on Monday, one day after the posting of the video showing the Egyptian Christians being executed.
In a statement broadcast on Egypt radio, the Egyptian Army said, the strikes were “to avenge the bloodshed and to seek retribution from the killers.”