After longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, President Barack Obama touted Libya as a U.S. success story
, calling it a "powerful reminder" of "how we've renewed American leadership in the world."
More than three years later, Libya has descended into chaos, with rival governments fighting a civil war since last summer for control of the country. While they battled one another, the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group has expanded its influence within Libya, triggering alarm bells in Europe.
According to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi
, Europe has to "stop sleeping" while jihadist groups are rapidly expanding their influence and demonstrating that they can thrive near Europe’s borders.
Since seizing control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, ISIS has won "pledges of allegiance" from jihadists in Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen, The Independent
ISIS operatives control areas of northern Syria near the border with Turkey and have been known to cross into the southern part of that country — a NATO member.
Just days before ISIS released its video depicting the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in the northeastern town of Derna, former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan predicted that ISIS would reach the Mediterranean Sea and cross into Europe if the chaos continues unabated in the country.
Zeidan said that easy access to weapons seized after Gadhafi's overthrow made Libya susceptible to jihadist activity, the Times of London
reported last week.
If the situation in Libya is allowed to deteriorate for another month or two, it will be impossible to prevent the jihadists from spreading to Europe, Zeidan said.
In its propaganda, ISIS has repeatedly mentioned Rome in discussing its expansion plans.
In the beheading video from Derna — a town located about 520 miles from Italy's southern tip — ISIS militants spoke about conquering Rome and were shown pointing in the direction of Italy, Newsweek noted.
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano urged NATO to intervene
against the jihadist group "for the future of the Western world."
"ISIS is at the door," he said. "There is no time to waste."
Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said in a recent interview that radical Islamist groups in Libya now pose an "urgent" and "imminent" threat to her country, Newsweek reported.
"The risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us," she said.
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