Italy's Foreign Minister Urges Nations to Pay Attention to Islamic State's Efforts in Africa

Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio urged member nations of a global coalition combating the Islamic State (IS) to pay attention to an "alarming" increase of IS efforts in Africa.

The 83 member coalition of 77 countries and five organizations met Monday for the meeting held by Di Maio and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as the IS remains a threat in Iraq, Syria and Africa, according to the Associated Press. Di Maio warned particularly of IS efforts in the Sahel region, Mozambique and the Horn of Africa on the eastern side of the continent.

"We must step up the action taken by the coalition, increasing the areas in which we can operate," Di Maio said.

Di Maio requested that special steps be taken by the coalition to deal with the threat posed by the IS in Africa.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio attends the Ministerial Meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat DAESH in Rome, Italy on June 28, 2021. Di Maio urged the coalition to pay attention to IS efforts in Africa. Ansa/Angelo Carconi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As the U.S. works on its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, members of the global coalition fighting the IS met to chart future steps against the extremist group.

The meeting came just a day after the U.S. launched airstrikes against Iran-backed militias near the Iraq-Syria border.

Senior officials from the seven-year-old, 83-member bloc gathered for the meeting. Participants were taking stock of current efforts to ensure the complete defeat of IS.

Amid significant other international priorities, including taming the coronavirus pandemic and stepping up the fight against climate change, the coalition is hoping to stabilize areas liberated from IS, repatriate and hold foreign fighters accountable for their actions and combat extremist messaging.

Blinken and Di Maio urged representatives of the coalition not to drop their guard.

Blinken noted that despite their defeat, IS elements in Iraq and Syria "still aspire to conduct large-scale attacks."

"Together, we must stay as committed to our stabilization goals as we did to our military campaign that resulted in victory on the battlefield," he said.

Blinken announced a new U.S. contribution of $436 million to assist displaced people in Syria and surrounding countries and called for a new effort to repatriate — and rehabilitate or prosecute — some 10,000 IS fighters who remain imprisoned by the Syrian Defense Forces.

"This situation is simply untenable," Blinken said. "It just can't persist indefinitely."

He also announced sanctions against Ousmane Illiassou Djibo, a native of Niger, who is a key leader of the Islamic State affiliate in the greater Sahara. Djibo was designated a global terrorist, meaning that any of his U.S. are frozen and Americans are barred from any transactions with him.

In addition to the meeting on IS, foreign ministers of countries concerned about the broader conflict in Syria met in Rome ahead of a critical U.N. vote on whether to maintain a humanitarian aid corridor from Turkey. Russia has resisted reauthorizing the channel amid stalled peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel groups.

Last week, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pederson, said there were worrying signs that the Islamic State may be getting stronger in the country and called for a boost in cooperation to counter it. Pederson has also joined calls for new international talks on ending Syria's civil war.

Since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, numerous high-level gatherings aimed at ending the fighting and guiding the country to a political transition have failed. The U.N., U.S., Russia and many other countries support a 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing a road map to peace in Syria that calls for a new constitution followed by U.N.-supervised elections.

Blinken also hailed the state of U.S.-European relations, noting that Italy, France and Germany — the three countries he visited on his current European tour — are the only members of NATO, the Group of Seven and the European Union.

"We share a deep commitment to promoting democracy and human rights," he said. "We see the same big challenges on the horizon. And we recognize that we can't tackle them alone."

Blinken and Di Maio downplayed differences between the U.S. and Italy over China, saying there was an increasing awareness of the complexities and dangers of dealing with Beijing.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accompanied by Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, speaks during a news conference at Fiera Roma in Rome, Monday, June 28, 2021. Blinken is on a week long trip in Europe traveling to Germany, France and Italy. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo