ISIS, islamska država.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Day Donaldson, used under CC BY

Islamic State cells in Libya are involved in the business of smuggling people to Europe, the Libyan ambassador to Italy said Tuesday, while rejecting the idea that terrorists are hiding among the migrants.

"Oh yes they are, they are big in that business, it is an important business [for them] because it generates money, as I said, Daesh is in the business of making money in any way possible," Ahmed Elmabrouk Safar said, using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group.

As for terrorists infiltrating migrant boats, the ambassador said: "Would you do that? Would you risk your own life in doing that? I think Daesh would rather come with a visa, in disguise ... I don't think they would use that route."

Speaking at the Foreign Press Association in Rome, Safar suggested that the Islamist extremists were not directly running trafficking operations, as he said that they have "found the right partners to do that for them locally."

Safar said that Libyan authorities were not currently able to go after smugglers, because of insufficient army, police, coastguard and intelligence capabilities, and that European Union aid to upgrade them "would be most welcome."

The coastguard is only operating tugboats at the moment, as its speed boats were decommissioned and taken to Tunisia for maintenance, the envoy said. There are plans to return them into service "soon" with Italy's help, he added.

However, Prime Minister Fayez Serraj is not yet in a position to invite EU navy vessels patrolling the Mediterranean to enter Libyan waters to catch smugglers, Safar said, as this risks antagonizing still active militias and would "not help Libya's stability." 

Safar represents a UN-backed national unity government that is struggling to extend its authority across Libya, facing resistance also from Khalifa Haftar, a powerful army chief from the east of the country.

The ambassador said Libya could help the EU screen migrants to identify those who could be eligible for asylum in Europe, and support "incentive-based projects" to convince others not to travel on, but was not ready to build "holding camps."

About 90 per cent of the nearly 47,000 migrants who arrived by sea to Italy this year sailed across from Libya, according to UN Refugee Agency UNHCR. The Italian government wants the EU to offer Libya and other African nations money to sharply reduce these flows.

Amid reports that US, French, British and Italian troops were already conducting covert operations in Libya, Safar said Libya welcomed outside "technical assistance" in the fight against the Islamic State, but no large-scale foreign military intervention.

He downplayed estimates of Islamic State's strength in its Sirte stronghold, saying it had "less than 1,000" foreign fighters. On Sunday, UN envoy to Libya Martin Kobler told French daily Journal de Dimanche that there were 2,000-3,000 combatants in the region.

Latest news

Gambia's new President Barrow fires army chief

Gambia's new President Adama Barrow has sacked army chief Ousman Badjie, replacing him with a presidential military aide.

Star investor Buffett takes a bigger bite of Apple, doubling shares

Stock market guru Warren Buffett on Monday revealed that his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway doubled its share of iPhone producer Apple stocks last month.

Minister: Erdogan not welcome in Austria for referendum campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not come to Austria to campaign to Turkish citizens living there ahead of a constitutional reform referendum in his country, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Monday.

Migrant group: Britain hits 'new low' by deporting grandmother

Britain has hit a "new low" by deporting a grandmother from north-eastern England to Singapore, a migrants' rights group said on Monday.

Turkish prosecutors seek arrest warrant for detained German reporter

Turkish prosecutors are seeking an arrest warrant for German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was taken into police custody 13 days ago.

1.4 million people without water after deadly floods in Chile

More than 1.4 million people were without drinking water in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday following catastrophic flooding that left at least three people dead.

Serbia PM says no snap parliamentary election

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that an early parliamentary election would not be held simultaneously with a presidential vote, although the state leadership had announced such a possibility.  

Trump touts 'security budget' with 10-per-cent defence spending hike

US President Donald Trump said he will present a "public security and national security budget," which will hike defence spending by 54 billion dollars or about 10 per cent.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for Roma comments

The founder of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a 5,000-euro (5,300-dollar) fine for inciting racial hatred and discrimination confirmed on appeal on Monday.

Croatia-Montenegro relations example for region, says minister

After meeting Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic in Podgorica on Monday, Montenegrin Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said that relations between Croatia and Montenegro were very good and could serve as an example to other countries in the region.

Over 31,000 South Sudanese flee fighting and hunger to Sudan

Fleeing escalating fighting and famine in South Sudan, over 31,000 people have arrived in neighbouring Sudan so far this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.

SDP urges gov't to pull statement making radical turn in human rights

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Monday called on the government to take a position on the Croatian foreign policy's turn in human rights, which it said was initiated by Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, and to withdraw a Foreign Ministry statement on that sent to Brussels.

Police says photoshopped photo of Milanka Opacic motivated by hate

An investigation has proved that a photograph showing Parliament Deputy Speaker Milanka Opacic wearing a shirt with four Cyrillic letters "S" (standing for "only unity saves the Serb", a popular motto and slogan in Serbia and among Serb nationalists) is a photomontage and the police suspect that publishing and distributing the said photo has been motivated by hate and intolerance.

Finance Ministry says didn't analyse HEP's readiness for IPO

The Ministry of Finance on Monday announced that it had not analysed the justification or the readiness of power provider Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) for an initial public offering with regard to a possible acquisition of Hungarian energy company MOL's stake in Croatia's INA.

Berlin confirms murder of German hostage in the Philippines

Berlin confirmed on Monday the murder of a German hostage by the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines with Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning the killing as "barbaric" and "abominable".

Syrian refugees arrive in Italy with help from Christian groups

A group of 50 Syrian refugees, more than half of them children, landed in Italy early Monday, entering the country on humanitarian visas obtained with the help of a lay Catholic NGO, Protestant organizations and the Italian government.

Macedonian opposition claims right to assume government

Macedonia's opposition Social Democratic (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev on Monday said that he expects to take over as prime minister because he has managed to build a majority in parliament.

EU tightens sanctions on North Korea in response to nuclear test

The European Union tightened sanctions against North Korea on Monday adding import bans and other restrictions to already tough measures in place against the reclusive regime.