Italy's interior ministry on Wednesday rejected a report that 50 Tunisian fighters from the Islamic State jihadist group may have entered Italy aboard migrant ships, saying there was "no evidence" for such claims.
"There is no evidence that 50 ISIS fighters have come to Italy on board migrant ships as reported by Interpol," the ministry's public security department said in a statement.
"Constant and deep" collaboration between Italy and Tunisia had enabled Italian police to identify "a tiny number of people" flagged by Tunis authorities, and they had already been deported, the statement said.
The department stated that Italy pays "maximum attention towards all those who arrive illegally on national territory".
"The immediate expulsion of certain suspects provides incontrovertible proof of this ," the department added. A total 243 alleged extremists have been expelled from Italy since 2015, according to the interior ministry.
The Tunisians on the Interpol list are believed to have arrived in Sicily between July and October last year on fishing boats or small vessels that were then abandoned on the beach, Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted a European counterterrorism officer as saying.
The migrants reportedly disappear into the countryside, a few miles from the coast, avoiding the Italian coastguard and police controls. Around 3,000 Tunisians are believed to have secretly landed in southern Sicily since last July of whom only 400 were stopped and identified by police, the Guardian said.
Many Tunisians who arrive in Italy are categorised as economic migrants and are issued with orders to leave the country within seven days, but often authorities lose track of them.
The Interpol list was sent on 29 November to the Italy's interior ministry which distributed it to national anti-terrorism agencies across Europe, according to the Guardian report.
Interpol believes the suspects may be attempting to reach other European countries, the Guardian said.
Around 5,500 Tunisians were believed to have travelled to IS territory in Syria and Iraq to fight for the terror group, according to UN estimates.