ISIS beheads 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya. How will Sisi respond?

Ian Black writes: The latest video horror apparently released by the Islamic State (Isis) shows the mass beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya and underlines the alarming spread of the jihadi group far from the familiar killing fields of Syria and Iraq.

The gruesome film – the victims again kneeling in orange jumpsuits – confirms what had been signalled a few days ago by Isis propagandists. The language directed at these Arab Christians is as hateful and sectarian as that employed against Shia Muslims and the western journalists and aid workers whose murder by Isis has so far attracted most attention internationally.

Like the recent immolation of Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh captured by the extremists in Syria, this mass killing will horrify Egyptian and wider Arab and Muslim opinion. The authorities in Cairo and their conservative allies in the Gulf are deeply alarmed by the growing chaos in Libya. Egypt and the UAE have already intervened against Islamist forces and may do so again now more forcefully. [Continue reading…]

In January, The Telegraph reported on the circumstances of the abductions: It was the early hours phone call that would save his life. As militants went from house to house, pulling Christians from their rooms, Youssef Zekry was woken suddenly.

Don’t open the door, said a voice on the line. It was his friend, Atef, who was also cowering from the gang outside.

As footsteps approached, Mr Zekry sat waiting for the knock. It never came.

“We could hear they were about to break down the door,” he said. “But then a voice said, ‘We have enough, let’s go…’ Then the footsteps retreated.”

That was January 4. Mr Zekry had just witnessed – and narrowly escaped – one of the most targeted acts of violence against Christians since the start of the Arab Spring, and the worst to befall them in Libya since it was liberated from the dictatorship of Col Muammar Gaddafi.

That liberation came thanks to an alliance including secular activists, Islamist fighters, and the air forces of the western world. It is an alliance that has now fractured, a breach that is plunging the country into chaos.

The victims are ordinary Libyan people, who have been assassinated, shelled, and killed in the cross-fire of the Arab world’s latest civil war. But on this occasion, it was Egyptians, Coptic Christians trying to escape poverty back home and find work in their supposedly oil-rich neighbour, who were targeted.

“They knew who they wanted, and they asked for them by name,” said Mr Zekry, now back in his home village of Al-Our in central Egypt. “They had a list with all our names on it.”

He was lucky. Eyewitnesses saw fourteen other men led away in handcuffs. Their masked captors carried the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group had only announced its existence in Libya a few weeks before – a nadir in the country’s descent into post-Gaddafi chaos.

Reuters: Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appeared to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned that his country would respond to the deaths as it saw fit.

Speaking on national television hours after the release of the video, Sisi said Cairo would choose the “necessary means and timing to avenge the criminal killings”.

However Egypt responds, it’s worth remembering the slaughter of Copts by the Egyptian Army in October 2011 in Maspiro.

Warning: This video contains disturbing images.

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