Italy has said it is ready to help monitor a ceasefire and train local armed forces to try and halt Libya’s slide into chaos, as the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the crisis.
Two rival governments, each backed by former rebels who toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, are battling for power in the country, while the growing danger of Isis was highlighted in recent days as it released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on the coast in Libya.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told parliament that possible alliances between local militias and Isis militants, inspired by their counterparts in Syria and Iraq, risked destabilising neighbouring countries.
“There’s a clear risk of alliances between Daesh [Isis] and local groups,” he said, using a common Arabic name for Isis. “The situation must be monitored with the maximum attention.”
Italy, whose southern islands are only around 185 miles from the Libyan coast, has watched in alarm as the country has unravelled since Western forces helped topple Gaddafi.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have arrived in southern Italy in unsafe boats, their departure from Libya facilitated by people smugglers operating freely in conditions of near anarchy. Last week, more than 300 were reported to have died attempting the crossing.
As well as fuelling anti-immigrant sentiment in Italy, which is suffering a deep economic slump of its own, the crisis has also heightened security fears, particularly after this week’s beheadings of the Egyptian Christians and Isis messages threatening Rome.
However, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti told parliament no evidence had been found of any increased threat to Italy in particular. “We’re at risk, as all countries that are fighting terrorism are,” she said.
Italy was ready to help monitor a ceasefire and train a regular army within the framework of a UN mission, he said. But Pinotti warned that any military action needed agreement within Libya.
“It’s not realistic to talk about a peace-enforcing mission in Libya because there would first have to be an accord between the factions, but it could be a peacekeeping mission,” she said.
Mr Gentiloni said the surge in migrant arrivals, up nearly 60 per cent in the first six weeks of the year to more than 5,300, was clearly connected with the security situation in Libya.
The comments came as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Egypt would strike back at any militant threats to its security as he toured the border area with Libya, two days after Cairo bombed Isis targets there, having intervened following the release of the Isis video on Sunday night.
On Tuesday, Mr Sisi said that the creation of a UN-backed coalition was the best way to deal with militants, although there were reports tonight that a draft UN Security Council resolution on Libya submitted by Arab states makes no mention of the international military intervention.
US President Barack Obama was also set to address a summit he had convened on the threat of violent extremism.