Italy rescues more than 2,000 migrants off Libyan coast

February 16, 2015 7:04 am

– Jihadist fears –

Italy has seen a surge in migrants leaving in boats from Libya as the country has sunk deeper into chaos.

The Italian foreign ministry on Sunday said it was pulling out staff from its embassy in the former colony.

The ministry said the embassy – the last Western mission to remain open in Libya – has “suspended its activities because of the worsening security situation”.

In total, about 100 Italians were being evacuated by ship from the north African state, foreign ministry sources said. READ: 70 Ethiopian migrants drown in shipwreck off Yemen coast.

Since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed revolt in 2011, Libya has been plagued by conflict among rival forces battling for control of key cities and the country’s oil riches.

The notoriously brutal Islamic State group is now also active in the country and on Sunday released a video purportedly showing the beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians the jihadists say they captured in Libya.

Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said in an interview with Il Messaggero newspaper Sunday that the risk of jihadists arriving in Italy on boats carrying immigrants from Libya “could not be ruled out”.

She said Italy was ready to lead a coalition from Europe and north African states to battle against the advance of jihadists in Libya.

“The risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defence needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us,” Pinotti said.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told public television on Saturday that Rome was committed to intervening in Libya, and called for a stronger United Nations mission.

“We have told Europe and the international community that we have to stop sleeping,” he said.

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