21 Coptic Christians Feared Executed by Islamic State in Libya

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The Libyan parliament has confirmed the death of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian construction workers kidnapped in two operations by the Islamic State in Sirte, Libya almost six weeks ago.

Although Egypt has not officially confirmed the deaths, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has offered to assist in the evacuation of any Egyptian in Libya who would like to leave.

“We are helping them,” Cairo’s foreign ministry spokesman, Badr Abdelatty, said. “If they would like to come back from Libya, we are facilitating their return to their home country.”

Thousands of Egyptians work in Libya as construction workers. Last year, seven Coptic Christians were were found killed near Benghazi, shot execution-style on a beach by suspected Islamic jihadists.

Plunged into a civil war last May, the ensuing chaos facilitated the infiltration of fighters loyal to the Islamic State beginning last November.

Arms were subsequently trafficked to Islamic State fighters in eastern Libya as well as to jihadis in Egypt through the countries’ shared border.    

Photos of the captives appeared in the latest version of the Islamic State’s slick, online magazine Dabiq (issue number seven) with a theological justification issued by the brutal terror group, ranging from the broad to the specific.

Accompanying photos of the captured Copts walking on a beach – each dressed in an orange jumpsuit (indicating imminent execution), hands tied behind their backs and being led by a black-clad, knife-wielding member of the Islamic State – is an article title, “Revenge for the Muslimat [female Muslim] by the Coptic Crusaders of Egypt.”

The article states that, “This month, the soldiers of the Khilfah [Caliphate] captured 21 Coptic crusaders, almost five years after the blessed operation against the Baghdad church executed in revenge for Kamilla Shehata, Wafa Constantine, and other sisters who were tortured and murdered by the Coptic Church of Egypt.”

The Muslim women referred to are the prominent cases of two women, Camilla Shehata and Wafa Constantine, both of whom were (and perhaps still are) married to Coptic priests. Both women disappeared amid press reports that each had freely converted to Islam and were not kidnapped. Both were subsequently returned to the Church, infuriating Muslims and sparking riots in Egypt from both sides.

Muslim activists at the time claimed at the time that each was trying to escape abusive marriages. According to the strict prohibitions against divorce in the Coptic Church, the only way out of a marriage is to convert to Islam which would necessarily annul the marriage.

In the case of Shehata, she stated at the time that she had left her husband of her own free will; the circumstances surrounding Constantine’s disappearance were less conclusive.

The “operation against the Baghdad church” referred to by the Islamic State was considered the first retaliation against (the late) Coptic Pope Shenouda for the "kidnapping" of the two women. In that attack, 60 Christians were killed while praying in the church in Baghdad by Al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, the forerunner of the Islamic State. 

Fady Youssef, the coordinator of Egypt’s Copts Coalition said the recent kidnappings of Egyptians in Libya by the Islamic State were the result of “Salafis inciting against Christians in Egypt,” who have conducted large protests calling for the “release” of Shehata and Constantine by the Coptic Church.

The article in Dabiq concludes by urging Muslims to kill Coptic Christians by any means possible to continue the relatiation.

“Finally, it is important for Muslims everywhere to know that there is no doubt in the great reward to be found on Judgment Day for those who spill the blood of these Coptic crusaders wherever they may be found…” the article states.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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