A European border agency is launching a new Mediterranean Sea operation with a focus on detecting terror threats.

The Frontex agency says Joint Operation Themis starts Thursday in the central Mediterranean. Its vessels will still rescue migrants from human traffickers' boats but the operation will also involve "intelligence-gathering and other steps aimed at detecting foreign fighters and other terrorist threats at the external borders" of Europe.

Themis' operational area will span the waters off Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Albania. The security component will also help Italy fight drug smuggling across the Adriatic Sea.

Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri said Themis will "better reflect the changing patterns of migration, as well as cross-border crime."

There has a recent uptick in African migrants trying to reach Spain across the Mediterranean.