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ISIS fighters, Syria. photo supplied
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UN dossier sounds the alarm : ISIS cells eye Balkan route

The risk that terrorists could reach the Mediterranean coasts is growing. A UN dossier has warned that jihadists have been crossing the Balkans in attempts to reach the EU.

Published: February 22, 2023, 7:05 am

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    While the war in Ukraine has absorbed resources and attention, there are other hot fronts that need to be kept an eye on. The warning was issued in a United Nations dossier. Many have focused on the new leadership of Al Qaeda passed to Saif Al Adel, but the document in particular outlined the threats that continue to surround Europe.

    Such threats are intertwined with the migratory routes to Italy which have never stopped. And in fact Lampedusa is once again feeling the pressure. The island’s hotspot on Monday registered over 2100 migrants.

    ISIS exploit regime change chaos in Libya

    The remnants of the organization continue to operate in Libya and pose a threat to the security of African countries. The dossier stated that Al Qaeda brings fighters from Niger to Libya through the porous African borders. It is unclear whether those fighters are destined for other war scenarios in the Sahel, but a northward movement cannot be ruled out.

    The risk is that solitary agents, or microcells of terrorists, aim at the Mediterranean coasts and above all at the hubs from which the boats loaded with migrants headed for Italy leave. It is a path that in the past had already affected the country.

    The strategy is one already tested in other failed states such as Yemen: ISIS fighters favor marriages with local tribes to maintain social legitimacy and its grip on territory. In this way it can control precious routes such as those on the trafficking of arms, drugs and above all human beings.

    Despite being weakened by Syrian raids, the group is still active in the southern sectors. Like Al Qaeda, ISIS proves to be resilient and capable of leveraging Libya’s fragility, exploiting ties with local communities and pushing illegal trafficking by recruiting new fighters.

    Small terror cells

    Even the structure has changed. The new leader Abdulsalam Darkullah has created small terrorist cells of 30-40 individuals also composed of foreign fighters, mostly from Ghana, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. Further west, proselytism at the gates of Spain is also worrying. Several EU member states have reported to the UN that the danger of foreign fighters who are reinventing themselves as recruiters to create autonomous cells capable of operating in Europe is still high.

    Many of these are skilled in radicalization processes and have direct contacts with the central commands of the organizations. In October, the Spanish police dismantled one of these cells in the enclave of Melilla. Some 13 people ended up in handcuffs between Melilla, Granada and Morocco for having indoctrinated about fifty children. The fulcrum of the cell is a radical imam from Melilla and two former ISIS fighters who had fought in Mali.

    Balkan route as an entry

    Also worrying is the route that runs along the Balkans. Here too the alarm bells continue to ring, as demonstrated by a double arrest last August. Spanish forces detained two Al Qaeda operatives between Austria and Spain. The two had joined the organization in 2014 during a period spent fighting in Syria. The investigations showed that the terrorists had managed to cross Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and finally Austria undisturbed.

    Perhaps even more disturbing is that the couple arrived in Europe thanks to a network of Serbian traffickers capable of providing passports to access the Schengen area. The Balkan route therefore remains one of the sensitive points in which to intervene, in particular by extending the biometric control systems to trace possible terrorists.

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