Rome: There are around 5,000 militants fighting for the Islamic State in Libya and there is a danger local groups may join their ranks, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Wednesday.
“According to our analysis, there are around 5,000 IS fighters in Libya, concentrated around Sirte,” Gentiloni said, referring to the coastal city lying midway between Tripoli and Benghazi.
“But they are capable of attacking the Ras Lanouf oil refinery and of incursions into the northwest of the country, as we have seen in Sabratha and at the border with Tunisia,” he noted.
Gentiloni warned that local militias could join IS in a “macabre franchising” of the bloodthirsty Islamist group.
“Italy needs to protect itself from this terrorist threat,” he said.
Earlier, Gentiloni told the Senate that Italy would only be involved in a military intervention in Libya if requested to by the North African country, and with parliamentary backing.
Italy will not let itself be drawn into risky military intervention in Libya and will not be swayed by “drums of war”, he said.
“The Italian government will not be dragged into useless and even dangerous adventures for our national security,” he said, noting there are 200,000 armed fighters in Libya including from various armies and militias and Italy will ignore “drums of war” and “jingoistic muscle-flexing”.
“To those urging military action against the Islamic State , we say military intervention is not the answer and could worsen the problem,” he said, stressing his country would only be involved in a military mission if requested to by the North African country, with the backing of the Italian upper and lower houses of parliament.
Europe and the US are considering a military response to IS’s expansion in Libya, which has descended into chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of long-time dictator Muammer Gaddafi.
Media reports have claimed French and Italian special forces are already on the ground. Italy will allow armed US drones to depart from Sigonella air base in Sicily to carry out defensive air strikes in North Africa “on a case by case basis”, Italian premier Matteo Renzi announced last month.
A member of the anti-IS coalition and Libya’s biggest buyer of oil and gas, Italy has a particular interest in defeating Islamist militias and stabilising its former colony, where the turmoil is fuelling the smuggling of tens of thousands of migrants to Europe across the Mediterranean.