Islamic extremists using refugee crisis to sneak across borders

Images show that a “refugee” who had previously been pictured heavily armed fighting for a jihadist faction in Syria is now in Europe.

Islamic State (ISIS) fighters are being smuggled into Europe by gangs in the Mediterranean, according to a Libyan government adviser.

Abdul Basit Haroun told the BBC that smugglers were taking advantage of the recent refugee crisis and hiding ISIS militants on boats filled with migrants.

Italian and Egyptian officials have previously warned that ISIS militants could reach Europe by posing as migrants on incoming boats. However, experts have cautioned that it is difficult to verify or assess such claims.

Mr. Haroun’s claims are based on conversations with smugglers in parts of North Africa controlled by militants. He alleges that ISIS was pressuring boat owners to turn over half of their income from the smuggling operations.

Over 60,000 people are estimated to cross the Mediterranean this year, fleeing conflict and poverty.

 Picutes of former Syrian rebel commander Laith Al Saleh, 30, in Europe have gone viral on social media.
Picutes of Former Syrian rebel commander Laith Al Saleh, 30, in Europe have gone viral on social media.

In an interview with BBC Radio 5, Mr. Haroun said, “ISIS used 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.”

If Mr. Haroun’s claims are true, it will confirm fears raised by Nigel Farage of the UKIP during British elections. “I fear we face a direct threat to our civilization if we allow large numbers of people from that war-torn region [the Middle East] into Europe.” Mr. Farage said.

Earlier this year, Frontex, the EU’s border control agency, warned that it was possible that foreign fighters were using irregular migration routes to get into Europe.

The Egyptian ambassador to the United Kingdom also warned of “boats full of terrorists” if the international community does not act.  The Italian government has expressed fears of militants infiltrating the boats, while emphasizing that the boats are a humanitarian crisis.

However, experts caution that both countries have an interest in influencing the international response to the Libya crisis, making it hard to verify the threat without evidence.

Earlier this year, Alison Pargeter, an analyst focusing on Libya for the Royal United Services Institute, told the BBC that “Egypt is particularly keen to amplify the threat of Islamic State in Libya as it is desperately seeking approval for international intervention in the country.”

Christian Kaunert, an expert in terrorism and refugee issues at Dundee University, agreed that the risk of militants infiltrating migrant boats was possible. Kaunert also said it is hard to determine how credible it is because when most of the boats come in, they go unnoticed.

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