x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 October 2017

Egypt strikes ISIL targets in Libya after Christian beheadings

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said his country reserved the right to “punish these murderers” after ISIL released a video showing Coptic Christians being beheaded on a beach in Libya.

Relatives of abducted Coptic Christian Samuel Walham, one of 21 Coptic Egyptian men seized by ISIL militants in the central city of Sirte, Libya, more than a month ago, weep outside their home in the village of el-Aour, near Minya. Hassan Ammar / AP
Relatives of abducted Coptic Christian Samuel Walham, one of 21 Coptic Egyptian men seized by ISIL militants in the central city of Sirte, Libya, more than a month ago, weep outside their home in the village of el-Aour, near Minya. Hassan Ammar / AP

Cairo // Egypt launched airstrikes against ISIL targets in Libya after the extremist group beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians it had held hostage for weeks.

Warplanes targeted weapons caches and training camps “to avenge the bloodshed and to seek retribution from the killers”, a spokesman for the Armed Forces General Command said on state radio.

The statement was the first time Cairo has publicly acknowledged taking military action in Libya, where extremist groups seen as a threat to both countries have taken root in recent years.

“Let those far and near know that Egyptians have a shield that protects them,” the statement said.

Libya’s air force meanwhile announced it had launched strikes in the eastern city of Darna, which was taken over by an ISIL affiliate last year. The announcement.

A video showing the mass beheading of Coptic Christian hostages was released late on Sunday by militants in Libya affiliated with ISIL, which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq in a self-declared caliphate.

The militants had been holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian labourers 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 ISIL group affiliate to come from outside the group’s core territory in Syria and Iraq.

Libya in recent months has seen the worst unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, which will complicate any efforts to combat the country’s many extremist groups.

The internationally recognised government has been confined to the country’s far east since militias seized the capital Tripoli last year, and religiously conservative politicians have reconstituted a previous government and parliament.

Egypt has strongly backed the internationally recognised government.

The Egyptian government declared a seven-day mourning period after the release of the video and President Abdel Fattah El Sisi addressed the nation late on Sunday night, pledging resilience in a fight against terrorism.

“These cowardly actions will not undermine our determination” said Mr El Sisi, 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.”

The UN Security Council meanwhile condemned the executions as “heinous and cowardly”.

The Coptic Church issued a statement saying it was “confident” the killers would be brought to justice, while Al Azhar, the Cairo-based seat of Sunni Islamic learning, denounced the “barbaric” killings.

Egyptian state television broadcast some of the footage from the video without showing the beheadings but depicting the hostages marched along by their captors on a beach.

* Agence France-Presse