Fears grow as Islamic State moves closer to Europe

A still image from the horrific video which purports to show the 21 Egyptian hostages. Picture: Universal News & Sport

A still image from the horrific video which purports to show the 21 Egyptian hostages. Picture: Universal News & Sport

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FORMER foreign minister Alistair Burt has warned that the latest Islamic State massacre which saw 21 men beheaded on a Libyan beach was “very worrying”, due to its location closer to the southern edge of Europe.

Egyptian planes yesterday staged a series of attacks against IS in neighbouring Libya following the release of a video apparently showing the murder of hostages in the country.

Mr Burt said the Egyptian air strikes were “very significant” as they showed a major Muslim country appreciated the threat in the region.

However, he warned that Islamic State had created a myth that it is “them against the western world, them against Christians” when in reality they are also a threat to Muslims.

His words of warning came as Islamic State claimed in the video that the group now plans to “conquer Rome”.

Yesterday’s air strikes saw Islamic State targets hit in Darna, in the east of the country. Meanwhile, US officials said their forces launched separate attacks in Syria and 13 strikes against targets in Iraq over the previous 48 hours.

A video released by Libyan jihadists loyal to IS – also known as Isis or Isil – on Sunday showed the men, Coptic Christians, many of whom were believed to be from the same small village in rural Egypt, marched in orange jumpsuits to the beach before being forced to the ground and beheaded.

World leaders have condemned the killings. The captives, who were thought to be working in Libya, were seized in December and January from the eastern coastal town of Sirte, which is now largely held by Islamist fighters.

The developments have raised fears that Islamic State has established a firm presence in a country less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy.

Conservative MP Mr Burt said the precise nature of the threat to Europe was unclear but added that the recent attacks in France and Denmark demonstrated the spread of extremism.

“[It] is a threat which is obviously growing and to have it this close to the southern tip of Europe is extremely worrying,” he said.

“Just because it is slightly beyond our borders is no reason why we should consider it a lesser threat. It’s now very clear that the failure to stop this movement growing at an early stage is costing us all very dear.”

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday denounced the killing of the Egyptian hostages.

He said: “Such barbaric acts strengthen our determination to work with our partners to counter the expanding terrorist threat to Libya and the region. Acts of terrorism should not be allowed to undermine Libya’s political transition.

“We remain fully supportive of the UN’s efforts to build a national unity government for Libya and to bring a political solution to the ongoing security crisis. Those who support terrorists can have no part in this process.”

In the five-minute video a caption read: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”

Before the killings, one of the militants stood with a knife in his hand and said: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.”

Italy has closed its embassy in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, while reports yesterday suggested that it is prepared to seek a United Nations mandate to dispatch troops to Libya.

In retaliation for the killings, Egyptian fighters bombed weapons caches and training camps in dawn raids carried out to “avenge the bloodshed”, military commanders in Cairo were reported as saying.

Libya’s air force was also reported to have carried out strikes in the city of Darna, which was seized by an IS affiliate last year.

Libya has been in turmoil since Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, with two rival governments and a variety of militia groups battling for turf.

The commander of the Libyan air force said that 40 to 50 militants have been killed in the air strikes.

Egypt has also called for international intervention in Libya against Islamic State.

Loyalists of the Syria and Iraq-based group have risen to dominate several cities in the chaos-ridden North African nation.

After the release of the gruesome mass beheading video on Sunday night, the tiny Christian-majority village where more than half of the 21 Egyptians believed killed by the extremists came from, was left in shock.

Inside the village church, relatives wept and shouted the names of the dead. “What will be a relief to me is to take a hold of his murderer, tear him apart, eat up his flesh and liver,” said Bushra Fawzi in el-Aour village, as he wept over the loss of his 22-year-old son Shenouda. “I want his body back. If they dumped it in the sea, I want it back. If they set fire to it, I want its dust.”

Hours later, Egyptian warplanes carried out a second wave of strikes in Darna.

After the strikes, Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi spoke to France’s president and Italy’s prime minister about the Libya situation. He sent his foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, to New York to hold consultations with UN officials and Security Council members ahead of a conference on terrorism opening on Wednesday in Washington.

“What is happening in Libya is a threat to international peace and security,” said Mr el-Sissi, who also banned all travel to Libya by Egyptian citizens.

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