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Libya Faces ISIS Crisis: Italy Wants NATO Intervention

The United Nations Security Council should meet to address the spiraling crisis in Libya, France and Egypt's presidents said Monday.
A new ISIS video has been released showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. ISIS Video

LONDON — Italy warned that ISIS is at Europe's doorstep as France and Egypt called for the United Nations Security Council to meet over the spiraling crisis in Libya.

The growing alarm came as Egyptian jets bombed ISIS targets in the North African nation as revenge for the beheadings — documented in an ISIS propaganda video — of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals in Libya.

The release of the video has underscored fears that ISIS is taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to expand its reach and stake a firmer foothold there.

French President Francois Hollande spoke by phone with his Egyptian counterpart, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to discuss the situation in Libya on Monday, according to Hollande's office. It said the two spoke of the growth of ISIS in Libya and "underscored the importance of the security council meeting and for the international community to take new measures" against the threat.

Libya has been unraveling since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. There are rival governments operating under separate parliaments — each with their own security brigades — and a plethora of armed Islamist groups jockeying for control.

United Nations negotiators have been meeting with representatives from the internationally-backed government and the one which claimed power through force in Tripoli last summer.

But the presence of numerous and competing armed Islamist groups has added fuel to the political fire, and an upsurge in violence has had Western nations increasingly alarmed.

Libya is not only situated close to Egypt and Algeria, but is just across the Mediterranean Sea from Europe. The spiraling violence has sent floods of migrants to European shores — and ISIS has repeatedly mentioned Rome as a benchmark of its growth.

Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano expressed the growing alarm in an interview with La Republica and urged NATO to intervene "for the future of the Western world."

"ISIS is at the door," he said. "There is no time to waste."

ISIS has been operating in Libya for months. One group of Libyan fighters pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in November and at least two other factions followed suit. Since then, ISIS supporters in Libya have claimed responsibility for a number of attacks — including the November car bombings outside of the Egyptian and U.A.E. embassies.

In December, a top U.S. general said ISIS had set up training camps in Libya. At the time, Gen. David Rodriguez described the camps as "small and very nascent," with an estimated "couple of hundred" individuals linked to ISIS.

For now, ISIS is competing for influence against the many other Islamist militant groups in Libya. The group might be able to rely on the fact that they're more disciplined and better organized than some of their rivals, according to Firas Abi Ali, who heads Middle East and North Africa forecasting for IHS Country Risk.

The latest video, though, is aimed at an external — rather than internal — audience, Abi Ali said, adding that it will force governments fighting ISIS to make a choice: engage in Libya at great economic cost, or risk looking weak and inconsistent. Either option is a win-win for ISIS, he said.

"This is more about saying to the west that [ISIS] has spread out to multiple countries and therefore showing that fighting ISIS is going to require a larger commitment," he explained.

Libya is strategically important because of its oil and also because of its neighbors. At the moment, ISIS isn't controlling territory there that is important in and of itself, according to Abi Ali.

"The importance of Libya is a lot more about whoever controls it being able to project power into Egypt Tunisia and Algeria," he said. "That’s what actually matters far more than Libya."

NBC News' Claudio Lavanga contributed to this report.