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ISIS Fighters Fleeing Libya May Board Migrant Boats to Italy, Authorities Say

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Fighters from the Islamic State extremist group, displaced from one of their key bases in the Libyan city of Sirt, could attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe disguised as asylum seekers, Italy has warned.

According to the head of the parliamentary committee in charge of Italian intelligence, the risk of ISIS militants trying to enter Europe has “substantially increased,” the Telegraph reports.

Airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition, coupled with a heightened offensive by Libyan ground troops, have led to ISIS members fleeing Sirt in recent weeks. Should they succeed in reaching the shores of Italy — the first port of entry for millions of migrants and refugees — they could potentially launch further attacks inside Europe.

“They are loose cannons, men on the run,” Giacomo Stucchi, the parliamentary committee head, told the Telegraph. “We need to understand their intentions — whether they want to disappear without trace, or whether they want to continue fighting in the name of their cause.”

Italy is already facing potential extremist threats closer to home, with Agence France-Presse reporting that Libyan authorities warned of an ISIS cell based in Milan, linked to one of the militant group’s veteran commanders. The Italian government has also cracked down on suspected jihadist sympathizers, deporting a Tunisian imam on Saturday — the ninth Muslim cleric expelled in the past 18 months — for suspected incitement to racial hatred.

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Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com