A video released by ISIS in Libya and published by the Arabic-language Asharq al-Awsat shows the two perpetrators of a deadly attack on the Corinthia Hotel in January threatening that ISIS’s newly-established presence in the country would be used as a springboard to invade Europe.
The footage itself is believed to have been taken in western Libya, where a rival parliament has been set up in the city of Tripoli amid ongoing violent unrest between various warring factions in the country, which has been without an effective central government since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in 2011.
The two terrorists – who were killed during the deadly attack on January 17 which left 10 others dead, including an American and two French citizens – are identified as foreign fighters “Abu Ibrahim” from Tunisia and “Abu Salman” from Sudan.
The masked Sudanese jihadist begins the video with a call for Libyans to “rise up” against the western-backed Libyan government, which is based in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk.
His Tunisian partner – whose face is uncovered but blurred out – claims that ISIS intends to use its bases in Libya to “open the gates” to the “Maghreb,” or northern Africa.
Although ISIS – or the Islamic State, as it refers to itself – is mainly based in Syria and Iraq, affiliates have been active for some time in parts of northern Africa, particularly in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis jihadist group last year pledged its allegiance to ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
But just last month the Islamist terrorist group’s presence in Libya hit headlines, when it broadcast the brutal mass-execution of 21 Coptic Christians, triggering reprisal air-raids from Egypt and a mass-exodus of Egyptian workers from the country.
It highlighted concerns over ISIS’s ability to recruit and set up bases beyond its Syrian and Iraqi strongholds, raising the prospect it could export its religious war throughout the region.
But the presence of an active Libyan cell – where several Islamist militias pledged allegiance to the group back in late 2014 – is viewed as particularly worrying due to Libya’s close proximity to Italy.
Libya is a regular smuggling route for illegal immigrants and refugees into Europe, something the Tunisian terrorist is clearly aware of, as he vows that the group plans to use Libya as a base to spread into the European continent.
Thousands of western-born Muslims are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, most of whom are from Europe, leading European and other western intelligence agencies to warn of the potential for radicalized and battle-hardened ISIS recruits returning home to carry out attacks.
Although no western fighters are known to be operating in Libya, the establishment of an ISIS presence so close to Europe will be viewed with considerable concern by European security agencies.