Tags: ISIS/Islamic State | ISIS | Target | Rome | Europe

The Next ISIS Target Is Rome

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Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 10:14 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Muslim ships of war are anchored at the mouth of the Tiber River. Muslim forces are rampaging through Saint Peter’s in Rome, pillaging, burning, and carrying away loot. The Arabs, already masters of much of Southern Europe are striking north, and no one seems able to stand in their path.
 
The year is 846. The Saracens, as they are called by medieval Christians, are banging on the gates of Europe.
 
Almost 1,200 years later, the so-called Islamic State is threatening to do so again. ISIS videos and proclamations speak of threatening “Rome” and taking the war to the West. ISIS militants execute prisoners on the shore of the Mediterranean, point north and speak of a promise “made in blood” to spread jihad into Europe.
 
What’s the chance they can make good on the threat? In the sense of mounting a real, conventional invasion of Italy, not very high. Anyone waiting to see an Islamic invasion armada on the model of the D-Day invasion of France in 1944 is going to be waiting a very long time.
 
That doesn’t mean the threat isn’t real. It just means that it will come in other forms.
 
To begin with, there is a very real maritime threat from the Islamic forces that are now taking over much of Libya. The distance from Libya to the mainland of Italy is only 400 miles. The distance to Sicily is considerably less, no more than 300 miles. Numerous maritime shipping lanes for cargo vessels and oil and gas tankers run through the area. Cruise vessels carrying literally thousands of passengers are common. None of these ships are routinely armed, and none are under armed escort.
 
The vulnerability of such vessels to attack is considerable. Pirates off the east coast of Africa and in Southeast Asia have long since established the ability of a small number of armed men in open motorboats to seize large ocean going vessels and hold them for ransom. Imagine a scenario in which a natural gas tanker, which is quite literally a massive floating bomb, has been captured and is being sailed toward an Italian port.
 
Even worse, imagine a cruise ship headed for the Greek Islands and loaded with sun worshippers and retirees under the control of ISIS terrorists beaming non-stop beheadings and torture worldwide via the Internet.
 
Islamic terrorists have also demonstrated the capacity, using small, open motor vessels, to attack and cripple even ships of war. The USS Cole came within a whisper of sinking after it was struck by a suicide boat in the harbor in Aden in 2000. Two years later the oil tanker Limburg was struck by a suicide boat in the Gulf of Aden and heavily damaged.
 
Given the chaos in Libya and the availability of explosives and vessels at numerous points along the coast, it is probably only a matter of time before the violence seen on shore begins to take to the sea.
 
Maritime threats are not the only ones about which Italy and Europe should be concerned, however. What is a short distance for even a small ship is an even smaller gap for aircraft. Libya has gone up in flames. The authority of the central government is limited at best. Dozens of aircraft of all types are unaccounted for amid the fighting. Most of them have probably been destroyed or are no longer air worthy. That does not mean they are all grounded. It does not mean they cannot be repaired.
 
In fact, Islamic militants from a group known as Libyan Dawn have posted numerous pictures online of aircraft, including large commercial jets, which they have seized and now control. On February 17 they demonstrated conclusively that at least some of these aircraft still fly when they conducted an air raid on an airfield near the western town of Zintan, which is near the border with Tunisia and is under the control of government forces.
 
Jam an aircraft full of explosives and jet fuel, put a couple of sufficiently motivated jihadists at the controls and you can hit targets in Sicily or the toe of the Italian boot in a little over an hour. If the attack comes with no warning, the aircraft flies low over the sea, and the Italians are not on full alert, it is anyone’s guess whether such a flight would be intercepted and downed in time.
 
Perhaps the greatest danger to Italy is not from suicide boats or planes, however. It is from people.
 
Last year 170,000 people made it across the Mediterranean to Italy illegally. Thousands more drowned, but the flow has only intensified since. Italian and European rules regarding immigration only encourage this flow. When migrants are intercepted at sea, by law, Italian naval vessels must transport them to Italy for processing. Once there many simply disappear onto the streets and fade from sight.
 
Geography also encourages this flow. Sicily may be 300 miles from Libya, but there are islands in the Mediterranean, which belong to Italy and are much closer. Technically, for instance, Lampedusa, which is only 70 miles from North Africa, is part of Sicily for political purposes. If you make it there, you are in Italy. You are in Europe. The Italian authorities will move you the rest of the way north to the Italian mainland without you having to lift a finger.
 
These migrants are coming from all over Africa and the Middle East, but close to a quarter of them are coming from Syria alone, the heartland of ISIS and the so-called Caliphate. Overwhelmingly, these are individuals fleeing violence and running away from ISIS. For a group trying to spread jihad north, however, the temptation to feed terrorist operatives into this larger migration and allow the Italian authorities to do the work of moving them into Italy is obvious.
 
The Italians are, of course, not oblivious to this threat, and some reasonable efforts are made to screen migrants and to check their backgrounds. Realistically, however, this is a lost cause. These people are coming by the tens of thousands from parts of the world where reliable records are, in the best of times, virtually nonexistent.
 
These are not the best of times. Against what database are you going to check the name of a Syrian who washes up in Lampedusa? With which government, in a nation torn by civil war, are you going to communicate? Fantasies of airtight databases aside, you have effectively no way to validate the legitimacy of his documents, his background or even his name. He may be a shopkeeper fleeing persecution. He may be part of an ISIS team planning to attack the Holy City. You have no way of knowing.
 
The fallout from this situation has yet to be felt in Italy, but it is only a matter of time. Recent translations of ISIS documents obtained in Libya, in fact, show that ISIS is openly discussing the strategic significance of Libya, considering operations against oil tankers and other vessels and planning to dispatch operatives northward as part of the massive migration that is underway.
 
“(Libya) has a long coastline and looks upon the southern crusader states, which can be reached with ease by even a rudimentary boat and note the number of illegal immigration trips from this coast is massive, estimated to be as high as 500 people a day, as a low estimate. 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 Southern Europe. It is even possible there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of crusader ships and tankers.”
 
If we have learned anything about ISIS so far, it is that the group means exactly what it says. They are at the gateway to Europe, and Rome is the next target.
 
This column appeared first in Epic Times.
 
Charles S. Faddis, president of Orion Strategic Services, LLC, is a former CIA operations officer with 20 years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. He is the senior intelligence editor for AND Magazine and a contributor to a wide variety of counterterrorism and homeland security journals. His nonfiction works include "Operation Hotel California," a history of the actions of his team inside Iraq from 2002 to 2003, "Willful Neglect," an examination of homeland security, and "Beyond Repair," an argument for intelligence reform. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
 
 
 

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ISIS videos and proclamations speak of threatening “Rome” and taking the war to the West.
ISIS, Target, Rome, Europe
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2015-14-24
Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 10:14 AM
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