2015 kidnapping and beheading of Copts in Libya
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Islamic State of Iraq (2006–13)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–14)As "Islamic State" (June 2014–present)
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of Coptic Christians
On February 12, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a report in their online magazine Dabiq showing photos of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian migrant workers that they had kidnapped in the city of Sirte, Libya, and whom they threatened to kill to "avenge the [alleged] kidnapping of Muslim women by the Egyptian Coptic Church". The men, who came from different villages in Egypt, 13 of them from Al-Our, Minya Governorate, were kidnapped in Sirte in two separate attacks on December 27, 2014, and in January 2015. This was not the first time that Egyptians in Libya have been the subject of abuse for political reasons, a pattern that goes back to the 1950s.
Earlier in 2014, a militia group in eastern Libya declared its affiliation with ISIL, it then took over parts of Derna in late 2014. People allied to the group claimed responsibility for attacks across the country, including the Corinthia Hotel attack in January 2015.
On February 15, a five-minute video was published, showing the beheading of the captives on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. A caption in the video called the captives the "people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church". In the video one of the killers in camouflage declared in North-American English:
- "Oh people, recently you've seen us on the hills of Al-Sham [Greater Syria] and on Dabiq's Plain, chopping off the heads that had been carrying the cross delusion for a long time, filled with spite against Islam and Muslims, and today we… are sending another message: Oh crusaders, safety for you will be only wishes especially when you're fighting us all together, therefore we will fight you all together until the war lays down its burdens and Jesus peace be upon him will descend, breaking the cross, killing the swine. The sea you've hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden's body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood."
After beheading the hostages, a message appears on the screen: "The filthy blood is just some of what awaits you, in revenge for Camelia and her sisters" (referencing Camelia Shehata, a Coptic Egyptian woman and wife of a Coptic priest who Islamists believe had converted to Islam and was detained by the Coptic Church because of it. She later denied the claim). Finally the speaker declares "We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission," pointing his knife toward the sea. As in other ISIL videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits, intended as a reference to the attire of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The group of killers identified itself in the video as the "Tripoli Province" of ISIL. The leader of the squad performing the killings was identified as a Libyan expatriate who goes by the nom de guerre Al Qaqa'a Ben Omro.
Following the release of the video, several experts argued that it had been digitally manipulated and that the actual murders were likely filmed in front of a green screen and then superimposed onto the footage of the beach. The videos were manipulated to show the militants as being seven feet tall in order to propagate fear. Although there were manipulations done to the video, experts confirm that the 21 Christians were killed.
The President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced a seven-day period of national mourning and called for an urgent meeting with the country's top security body. In a televised address, al-Sisi declared his country reserved the right for retaliation. He also reiterated an offer to facilitate Egyptians’ evacuation from Libya and imposed a travel ban on citizens to Libya. Al-Azhar also condemned the incident. The killings were also addressed particularly by the United Nations Security Council, French President François Hollande, Sahrawi President Mohamed Abdelaziz and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Roman Catholic Pope Francis telephoned Coptic Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences. At an ecumenical meeting with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Francis stated "They only said 'Jesus help me ...' The blood of our Christian brothers is testimony that cries out. Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn't matter: They're Christian!" The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary provided financial support of €500 for each families of the victims. Péter Szijjártó said "Hungary cannot be a bystander of the continuous attacks against Christian communities in the Middle East". The Obama administration was criticized for referring to the victims simply as ‘‘Egyptian citizens’’ rather than Christians, the express reason for their murder.
On February 16 at dawn Egyptian military conducted airstrikes on ISIL facilities in Libya. The airstrikes targeted ISIL training locations and weapons stockpiles. All military aircraft returned safely to base. Libyan air force also conducted strikes in Derna, occupied by an ISIL affiliate since 2014. About 40–50 militants and 7 civilians were reportedly killed.
Canonized as saints
On February 21, 2015 the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II announced that the 21 murdered Copts would be commemorated as martyr saints on the 8th Amshir of the Coptic calendar, which is February 15 of the Gregorian calendar. The commemoration falls on the feast day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
After the beheadings, the Coptic Orthodox church released their names, but there were only 20 names. It was later learned that the 21st martyr was named Mathew Ayairga and that he was from Chad. He was originally a non-Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, "Their God is my God", knowing that he would be killed.
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- Ahram Online: "Video shows beheading of Copts at IS hands; Egypt declares week of mourning" 15 Feb 2015
- Raman Media network: "ISIS Video Shows Mass Beheading of Christian Hostages" by Rakash Raman February 16, 2015
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- New York Times: "Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East? - ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight" By ELIZA GRISWOLD JULY 22, 2015 | "Daniel Philpott, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, says, ‘‘When ISIS is no longer said to have religious motivations nor the minorities it attacks to have religious identities, the Obama administration’s caution about religion becomes excessive."
- "Egyptian air strikes target Isis weapons stockpiles in Libya". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 Feb 2015.
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