A convicted terrorist with ties to the Islamic State group was caught trying to enter Europe in a migrant boat with asylum seekers arriving from Libya.
Ben Nasr Mehdi, a Tunisian who was first arrested in Italy in 2007 and sentenced to seven years in prison for plotting terror attacks with an Islamic State-linked group, was caught trying to re-enter the country last month by police in Sicily, The Independent reported.
He was found among 200 migrants rescued at sea by a navy vessel on Oct. 4. Despite giving a false name and claiming that he was seeking asylum in northern Europe to escape political persecution, fingerprints revealed his true identity, The Independent reported.
He was held along with three other men, suspected of human trafficking, and interrogated by Sicilian police. Several days later, Mehdi, 38, was repatriated to Tunisia.
Authorities initially tried to hide the arrest to avoid “panic” amid growing fears that Islamic terrorists may take advantage of the European Union’s lax border controls and openness to asylum seekers fleeing conflict in the Middle East.
Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, had previously said there was no evidence that Islamic terrorists were entering Europe aboard migrant boats, but he has said that Italian security forces are keeping an eye out for such a threat.
European leaders have become increasingly worried about the potential for Islamic terrorists to infiltrate Europe’s borders amid the refugee crisis.
Last month, German Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière said his country had become a “focus of international terrorism” thanks to migration.
Nigel Farage, the U.K.’s Independent Party leader in April, warned the European Parliament that terrorists would try to exploit the ongoing crisis.
“When ISIS say they want to flood our continent with half a million Islamic extremists, they mean it, and there is nothing in [the Common European Asylum Policy] that will stop them,” Mr. Farage said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
“I fear we face a direct threat to our civilization if we allow large numbers of people from that war torn region into Europe,” he added.
In May, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg expressed similar fears.
“Of course one of the problems is that there might be foreign fighters, there might be terrorists trying to hide, trying to blend in among the migrants,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters. “And this underlines the importance that we have to respond to this turmoil.”