This weekend, ISIS put Europe closer in its crosshairs with its latest beheading video. The video purportedly showed the execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians that had been held hostage by the group. At one point, the executioner points his knife toward the Mediterranean and says, "We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission." Unlike previous videos, which hurled threats at the West from some vague foreign desert in the Middle East, the militant in this video is making his threats much closer to his target, from the shores of the Mediterranean. This alarming proximity raises the even more alarming question: Could ISIS actually attack Europe?
The five-minute video, which was filmed from a beach in Libya, shows just how far ISIS members and affiliates have spread and dispersed. The group started by taking advantage of an unstable Iraq and soon capitalized on the upheaval in Syria to gain territories there, establishing its so-called caliphate. And now it could do the same in Libya, which has been in disarray since the death of Moammar Gadhafi, making it a prime territory for Islamic militants to control. According to former Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan, who spoke to Europe's The Times, ISIS already has a strong foothold in Libya and has succeeded in recruiting members from rival extremist groups.
"They are growing," Zeidan told the paper. "They are everywhere."
But ISIS wouldn't stop at Libya. Zeidan also warned that unless the situation in Libya was contained, ISIS would eventually make its way over to Europe.
Using Libya As A Gateway
In January, an ISIS propagandist using the alias Abu Arhim al-Libim, who is believed to be a recruiter for ISIS in Libya, posted an essay titled "Libya: The Strategic Gateway for the Islamic State," which was then translated by the British anti-extremist group Quilliam. In the document, the propagandist writes that ISIS hopes to send militants from Iraq and Syria to Libya in order to cross the Mediterranean and enter southern Europe. According to Quilliam's translation, the document states:
[Libya] has a long coast and looks upon the southern Crusader states, which can be reached with ease by even a rudimentary boat.
The militants would pretend to be migrants on the many illegal immigration vessels that travel between Libya and Europe.
The number of "illegal immigration" trips from this coast is massive.... According to many [of these immigrants], 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 is even possible that there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of Crusader ships and tankers.
Terrorist Attack Thwarted In Belgium
Never one to focus on just one area, ISIS has members and cells dispersed in Europe and throughout the world. One of these cells was recently discovered by intelligence officials in Belgium, where the group was apparently planning something major.
On Jan. 15, the normally quiet town of Rue des Collines in Verviers, Belgium, saw a massive firefight when Belgian commandos thwarted ISIS cell members from carrying out a terrorist attack. The commandos found weapons and chemicals required to make the powerful explosive TATP, as well as police uniforms, which suggested that they were planning to target police stations. However, investigators suspect that their main target could be something much bigger, as Brussels is home to EU and NATO headquarters.
The fact that the cell was discovered during the final stages of their planning is a sobering fact. It's likely that similar cells like this exist elsewhere in Europe and the West, and like former CIA General Michael Hayden suggested last summer, it's only a matter of time.
What Europe Is Doing
But that doesn't mean Europe's only option is to defenselessly wait for the inevitable. It doesn't have to be inevitable at all. If we've learned one thing from ISIS, it's that the group is incredibly skilled at presenting an intimidating image to the world. But all the while, the West and its allies have made vast progress in countering and crippling ISIS. And we can continue to do so.
In response to the current threat against Europe via Libya, Italy is now urging NATO to take action "for the future of the Western world." An official statement from French President Francois Hollande's office told NBC News that Hollande recently spoke to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and both agreed that the situation warranted a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss ramping up international efforts to combat ISIS. These new measures would likely include more ground troops, something that President Obama is already trying to authorize, and perhaps increased airstrikes.
France and Egypt's concerns, as grave as they are, somewhat calmly underscore Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano's palpable fear. He told Italian newspaper La Repubblica:
ISIS is at the door. There is no time to waste.
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