Italy is seeking UN intervention in Libya after jihadist terror threat

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Aaron Schachter: The expansion of ISIS into Libya has triggered alarm bells from Washington to Cairo. But it’s an especially worrisome development for Italy. The same video that apparently showed ISIS members beheading Egyptian Christians in Libya also threatened Italy directly. The militants boasted of being just south of Rome now, suggesting an attack against Italy could be in the works. The Italian government is taking the threat seriously. It’s also worried that the chaos in Libya and ISIS’ presence there could send a massive wave of migrants across the Mediterranean to Italian shores. Raffaele Marchetti is an international affairs expert at Rome’s Lewis University. Mr. Marchetti, what exactly has been the reaction there from the Italian government?


Raffaele Marchetti: Well, the Italian government is worried. The recent changes in Libya are considered a potential threat to the country.


Schachter: What is the possible action that they’re thinking of? Is this sort of a Charlie Hebdo-style of attack? What are they thinking it might be?


Marchetti: The government is taking into consideration different kinds of threats. Of course there is a classical sort of terrorist-style threat that might come from migrants. As you know, there is a continuous inflow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and reaching Italian southern shores, but also there are Italian Western fighters, Italian passport holders who went to Syria and sometimes come back to Italy to maybe organize a terrorist sect.


Schachter: Italy’s government, as a way to fight this threat, has called for a UN-led intervention in Libya. It seems a little farfetched.


Marchetti: Yes, of course. Any UN intervention is complicated and difficult to reach for a number of reasons, including of course the tension with Russia on Ukraine and other reasons. But beyond that, what is important is trying to foster a kind of large coalition, which includes many countries but also I’m hearing about important social groups that have a presence in Libya and in the Middle East that may be crucial for any kind of sustainable long term reconstruction of the failed state that is Libya today.


Schachter: After the release of that awful video of the beheading of coptic Christians, is there any thought that targeting Italy is because it is the center of one variant of Christendom?


Marchetti: Of course. Italy is not only Italy, Italy is also the Vatican, the center of Christianity, that is associated in the minds of some jihadists--not all--with the idea of Western crusades. Of course, Rome in that sense, and St. Peter and the Vatican, might be a symbolic target. But this is only one part of the story. It’s a part but it’s not the entire story. There are other kinds of stories that have to do with the Italian and European presence in Libya. Libya also has an important role today because if Libya falls, there is a kind of increased presence in the Middle East and the next target seems to be Egypt.


Schachter: Raffaele Marchetti is a professor of international affairs at Rome’s Lewis University. Professor, thank you for joining us.


Marchetti: Thanks to you.