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Greece seizes arms ship possibly bound for Islamic State

Coast guard intercepts cargo vessel sailing near island of Crete with weapons and explosives on board

Illustrative photo of Islamist fighters in Libya (YouTube screenshot)
Illustrative photo of Islamist fighters in Libya (YouTube screenshot)

The Greek coast guard intercepted on Tuesday a shipment of weapons and explosives on board a foreign-flagged cargo ship suspected to be bound for Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Authorities said the ship sailing near the southern island of Crete was seized in an early morning raid and was taken to a nearby port for a further search and investigation into the arms shipment.

Local media reported that officials believe the weapons originated from Islamic State-linked militants in Libya and was bound for militants seeking to expand the group’s occupation of territories in Iraq and Syria.

Greek officials would not immediately release any further information on the type or amount of weapons on board, where the ship was sailing to or from, and the identity of the ship or its crew.

In recent months, Libya has become a magnet for radical jihadists as the north African country has slid into chaos in the aftermath of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Security officials in Tripoli last month said that hundreds of foreign radical militants taking advantage of the breakdown in security were pouring into Libya to receive weapons training in jihadist camps before launching deadly attacks in other countries.

The Islamic State affiliate in Libya has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, including a shooting on a Tunisian beach in June that killed 38 tourists. Authorities identified the gunman as 23-year-old Tunisian student who received weapons training from jihadists in Libya prior to carrying out the mass shooting.

In the last year, Libya’s local IS affiliate seized control of the coastal city of Sirte and its surrounding area, and Libyan military officials have recently estimated that 3,000-4,000 jihadists regularly train at a camps in areas under its control.

Libya’s chaos has also spurred a surge in human trafficking, allowing illegal smugglers to launch dozens of boats from the lawless country each week, with Italy and Greece bearing the brunt of the influx of refugees escaping violence and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

AP contributed to this report.

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