ROME (AP) — Four smugglers brandishing Kalashnikovs threatened an Italian Coast Guard motorboat involved in one of several operations that rescued more than 2,000 migrants leaving Libyan shores on Sunday.
Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said the gunmen used a small boat to speed to the scene some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Libya, where security is rapidly deteriorating.
After threatening the rescuers who had taken aboard the migrants, three of the smugglers jumped onto the then-empty migrants' boat and took off with it.
Nearly 2,200 migrants were rescued in several operations Sunday, the Coast Guard said. They were being taken to Italian ports. Hundreds were also rescued Saturday.
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is pressing for U.N. intervention to stem the violence in Libya. On Sunday, Italy repatriated by sea its personnel from its Tripoli embassy and advised other Italians, many of whom work in oil or construction businesses, to leave Libya.
Last week, gunmen from an al-Qaida inspired militia took over broadcast stations in the city of Sirte, according to a security official in Libya.
Italian authorities fear that terrorists might slip into Italy on Libya-based smugglers boats crowded with refugees and migrants from Syria, Africa and elsewhere.