ISIS militants in mass beheading of Christians in Libya
Egyptians protest in Cairo what they characterise as government inaction in reaction to the kidnapping of Coptic Christians in Libya, Feb. 13, 2015.
A video released on Sunday by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to the Islamic State terror group purports to show the mass beheading of Coptic Christian hostages.
The video, which appeared on the Twitter feed of a website that supports Islamic State, depicts several men in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant.
The beheaded hostages—believed to be 21 Christian Coptic laborers from Egypt, kidnapped from the city of Sirte— were depicted being marched onto a beach where they are forced onto the sand and then killed by knife-wielding executioners.
The men are made to kneel and one militant, dressed differently than the others, addresses the camera in North American-accented English.
“All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together,” he said. “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden's body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
The men are then laid face-down and simultaneously beheaded.
The killings raise the possibility that the Islamic militant group — which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq in a self-declared caliphate — has established a direct affiliate less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy. One of the militants in the video, speaking English, makes direct reference to that possibility, saying the group now plans to “conquer Rome.”
The makers of the video identify themselves as the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State group — the Islamic militant group that controls about a third of Syria and Iraq. The militants had been holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage for weeks, all laborers rounded up from the city of Sirte in December and January. It was not clear from the video whether all 21 hostages were killed. It was one of the first such beheading videos from an Islamic State group affiliate to come from outside the group's core territory in Syria and Iraq.
The Coptic Church in a statement called on it followers to have “confidence that their great nation won't rest without retribution for the evil criminals.”
In a televised address, Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said his country reserved the right to retaliate for the killings. He also reiterated an offer to facilitate Egyptians' evacuation from Libya, and imposed a ban on citizens traveling to Libya. The president also convened a meeting of senior security officials to discuss a response to the crisis.
The mass killings by a group that identified itself in the video as the “Tripoli Province” of ISIS gives a stark illustration of the group's influence in Libya, a country consumed by upheaval since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in an uprising backed by NATO in 2011. Two rival governments and a variety of militia groups are currently locked in a multipolar fight for control of the country.
“I think it's possible that there are currently more Daesh adherents in Libya than in any other country in the world except for Iraq and Syria,” says Christopher Chivvis, a senior analyst at the Santa Monica-based Rand Corporation.
“It's possible that Libya is now emerging as a sort of second front in [ISIS'] effort to expand from a regional into a global organization,” he says. “I don't think there's a direct command and control kind of relationship where core ISIS is able to, with any degree of confidence, order specific operations in Libya. I think there's moral and probably also financial and potentially other forms of support.”
A militia group in eastern Libya declared its affiliation with ISIS last year. Since then, fighters allied to the group have claimed responsibility for attacks across the country, including an assault on a luxury hotel in Tripoli in January.
“The problem is that overlaid on this ISIS threat is a deeply divided country, a civil war. And ISIS is exploiting the fissures of that civil war,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Analysts say ISIS is seeking to attract the support of existing militia groups in Libya in hopes of gaining an upper hand over rival organizations such as al-Qaeda or local insurgent groups, such as Salafist militia group Ansar Al Sharia. The Institutions of the Libyan state have eroded, leaving control of specific cities in the hands of a range of separate armed groups.
“[ISIS] is benefiting from the decline of jihadist groups in the east, like Ansar Al Sharia,” said Wehrey. “It's co-opting or luring many members of the jihadist movement in the east into its ranks. It's trying to carve out new turf.”
The Egyptian government declared a seven-day mourning period and el-Sissi convened an emergency national security meeting to discuss a response. El-Sissi sent condolences to “the victims of terrorism,” according to a statement released by the presidency.
“These cowardly actions will not undermine our determination” said el-Sissi, who also banned all travel to Libya by Egyptian citizens. “Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals.”
Since the 2011 uprising in Egypt, thousands have traveled to neighboring Libya in search of jobs, despite advice from their government not to go to one of the most dangerous countries in the region.
Egyptian authorities have responded by suspending most flights to Libya and issuing travel warnings. Yet, Egyptian workers remain undeterred, and still line up outside the Libyan Embassy in Cairo in search of visas.
Fox News/ AP/ Time
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