- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2015

The Pentagon acknowledged Monday that the Islamic State has gained a “toehold” in Libya, suggesting that the terrorist group is spreading from the Middle East into North Africa.

While preexisting terrorist groups throughout the region are re-branding themselves at part of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, Col. Steve Warren, Defense Department spokesman, said the group’s expansion into Libya goes beyond just a re-branding effort, suggesting the group is actually spreading into new territory.

“I think Libya probably where ISIL most wants to gain a foothold,” he said. “They probably have at this point gained at least a toehold in Libya based on the extraordinary amount of unrest and the almost completely deteriorated security situation.”

Despite that, Col. Warren said the U.S.’s focus in the fight against the Islamic State is in Iraq and Syria, but said a new authorization for the use of military force — currently being considered by Congress — would give the president more power to fight the Islamic State wherever they are.

Fighters claiming loyalty to the Islamic State shot and beheaded dozens of Christians in Libya over the weekend.

As the situation in Libya continues to deteriorate, international organizations have called for the European Union to do more to save refugees who are trying to flee the country for Italy in a treacherous trip by boat across the Mediterranean Sea.

Reports indicate that as many as 700 refugees died in a shipwreck Sunday. International organizations have urged European nations to do more to patrol the waters to prevent further deaths.

Col. Warren said the European Union has not asked the U.S. for any assistance in patrolling the Mediterranean Sea for refugees.

“To my knowledge, there have been no requests for a U.S. naval presence there,” he said. “We certainly stand prepared to assist however we can. This was a terrible tragedy and it really shows again the results of this unrest that we’re seeing in Libya.”

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