IS ‘hides fighters’ among Mediterranean refugees

Migrants from sub'Saharan Africa at a detention centre in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after being arrested en route to boarding boats headed for Europe. Picture: Getty

Migrants from sub'Saharan Africa at a detention centre in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after being arrested en route to boarding boats headed for Europe. Picture: Getty

5
Have your say

Islamic State may be exploiting the Mediterranean refugee crisis to smuggle fighters into Europe, according to an investigation.

There is some evidence the extremist group is working with human trafficking gangs to transport its members into the West by hiding them among refugees on boats.

Police don’t know who is from IS and who is a refugee

Abdul Basit Haroun

However, experts have warned the claims are very ­difficult to verify.

Sources suggest that IS is also capitalising on the emergency in the region to fund its terrorist activities, by taxing people smugglers.

Abdul Basit Haroun, an adviser to the intelligence service of the Libyan government, said he had spoken to boat owners who operate in IS-controlled areas who told him the group takes a 50 per cent cut of their income. The proceeds of people smuggling can run to tens of thousands of pounds per vessel.

Mr Haroun said: “They [IS] give permission for the boat owner to use the spot under their control and they charge them for that 50/50 of whatever they make.

“They use the boats for their people who they want to send to Europe, as the European police don’t know who is from IS and who is a normal refugee or not.

“The boat owners have a list of who to take, but some people come suddenly out of the list and they’re told, ‘Take them with you’. They sit down separately, they come alone and in the boat they are not scared at all. They are for IS, 100 per cent.”

Asked why IS would be doing this, he said: “I think they do something for planning in ­future, not for today or tomorrow.”

The investigation also uncovered separate claims that two Egyptian brothers travelled from the Libyan city of Sirte to Europe in March after they were told by human traffickers that IS offered easier, safer and cheaper journeys to the West. They revealed how IS offers people wishing to migrate the chance to stay and fight in Libya.

If they insist on leaving for Europe, all migrants are given one week of religious education, which they are told is to safeguard them against Europe’s temptations.

Earlier this year, European border agency Frontex warned it is possible that foreign fighters are using “irregular migration routes”. Frontex warned in its annual risk analysis that with record numbers of migrants crossing the border illegally, resources are devoted to their immediate care “rather than screening and obtaining information on their basic characteristics such as nationality”.

Another report published earlier this week raised concerns about the involvement of IS in the human trafficking trade.

Dundee University’s Christian Kaunert, an expert in terrorism and refugee issues, said the risk of militants infiltrating ­migrant boats was “plausible – but whether it’s absolutely credible is difficult to assess”.

Back to the top of the page