Islamic State video shows beheadings of Egyptian Christians taken hostage in Libya

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February 16, 2015 By David Kirkpatrick

Cairo: A video released by the Islamic State appeared to show the mass beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians by fighters in a recently formed Libyan arm of the militant group.

Identical in style and details to earlier execution videos released by IS, this was the first video the group has released depicting a killing outside of its core territory in Syria and Iraq. It appeared to show much closer communication and collaboration between IS and its far-flung satellite groups than Western officials previously believed.

Concern is already growing in Libya and the West that IS might capitalise on the chaos that has engulfed the country to establish and expand a base of operations there. At least three groups of Libyan fighters have already pledged loyalty to IS, one in each of the country's three regions – Barqa in the east, Fezzan in the south, and Tripolitania in the west.

Relatives of the kidnapped Egyptians had protested in Cairo for the release. Photo: Reuters 
Relatives of the kidnapped Egyptians had protested in Cairo for the release. Photo: Reuters

In Cairo, where the military-backed government has been working to defeat the Islamist factions in neighbouring Libya, supporters of the government cited the video released on Sunday as new evidence that those factions pose a growing threat to Egypt's own security.

Confirming that those killed in the video were Egyptian Christians taken hostage in Libya weeks ago, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced seven days of national mourning. In a televised address, he said Egypt would chose the "necessary means and timing to avenge the criminal killings."

The White House offered support to Egypt's government and condolences to the victims' families, condemning the "despicable and cowardly" killings.

IS promoted the video last week with a photograph from the scene that appeared in its English-language online magazine Dabiq.

The main difference from other execution videos it has released is that the new one appears to have taken place on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, on a rocky beach said by militants in the video to be in western Libya, much closer to Europe than sites previously depicted.

Fighters under the banner of the Tripolitania Province of the Islamic State announced last month they were holding about 20 Coptic Christians. A similar number of Egyptian Christians in Libya seeking work had disappeared in the mid-coastal city of Sirt. Officials of  the Egyptian government and the Coptic Church confirmed that captives seen in a photograph with the announcement were the missing Egyptian Christians, and on Sunday confirmed  they were killed in the video.

In the video, titled "A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross", masked fighters identified as from the Tripolitania province of IS, dressed in black with machetes at their chests, parade along a rocky beach towards the camera with a row of bound captives in orange jumpsuits.

The only sound is that of the crashing waves. The captives are made to kneel, and then one by one they are beheaded.

The lead executioner, who wears a brown mask over his face, thrusts his dagger at the camera. "O people, recently you have seen us on the hills of al-Sham and Dabiq's plain, chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time," he says in fluent English with an American accent. "And today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message."

The high-quality video, which bears the logo of al-Hayat, the official publishing arm of IS, is in stark contrast to the footage released in the past by affiliates of the group. The footage in those videos was shaky and grainy, suggesting an amateur production. By contrast, the five-minute clip released on Sunday is professional and cinematic, and is filmed in the same style as previous IS videos, including one that showed the mass beheading of captured Syrian soldiers last year.

New York Times, agencies

Written by

David Kirkpatrick


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