In a rare attack on the NATO fleet offshore, Libyan government forces fired a missile at an Italian warship in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday. The incident has been confirmed by Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
The target appears to have been the Italian frigate Bersagliere, which was about 19 kilometers off the Libyan city of Zlitan. The missile fell harmlessly into the sea about two km away, the Italian defense ministry and NATO reported.
A little earlier, Italy’s defense ministry Thursday reported that a missile had fallen near an Italian naval ship, but it was unclear whether it had been fired or dropped by accident.
Speaking on the sidelines of a press conference in Rome, Italian defense minister Ignazio La Russa had said.”It could be a Libyan missile or an anti-aircraft missile that fell into the sea,”
“There is no reason to worry,” he said, though he added that the ship – the Bersagliere – had “moved further off to be on the safe side.”
The missile fell into the water two kilometers from the frigate around 0840 GMT, he said.
NATO said in a statement, that the ship was not harmed and continued on its mission. It added: “NATO ships go in harm’s way to seek those military targets that continue to threaten the people of Libya.”
In Tripoli, Ibrahim told journalists that the missile had been launched by troops that remain loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi. “We have amazing capabilities that we have not felt that we need to use yet,” Ibrahim said. “Our army is still very strong. We haven’t used our real military power.”
He discounted allied claims that pro-Al Qathafi forces had been reduced to 20% of their capabilities, adding, “For God’s sake, if we are down here to 20%, what am I doing here?”
Another large explosion that occurred in the Mediterranean on June 12 is still shrouded in mystery. The explosion that was heard in Malta was reported on the Maltese press and was presumed to have been a missile from Libya directed at the Italian island of Lampedusa but that went astray.
Neither the Maltese government nor NATO would comment. It left many questions that nobody seems to want to answer.
Al Qathafi’s forces have been battling a nearly six-month-long revolt that started in the eastern city of Benghazi in mid-February. Soon after, in Mach, NATO planes and warships joined the fight, pounding government troops under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from reprisals by Al Qathafi loyalists.
Though most of the allied campaign has been conducted from the air, NATO warships reported fighting at least two brief sea engagements with pro-Al Qathafi forces off the port city of Misurata in May.