2015 kidnapping and beheading of Copts in Libya
Part of a series on the
| Islamic State of Iraq
and the Levant history
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999–2004)
Mujahideen Shura Council (2006)
Islamic State of Iraq (2006–13)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–14)As "Islamic State" (June 2014–present)
|Part of a series of articles on the|
of Coptic Christians
|21 Martyrs of Libya|
Martyrs shrine in Church of martyrs of faith and homeland, Samalut, Egypt
|Born||One from Ghana; other 20 Martyrs from Egypt|
15 February 2015|
|Venerated in||Coptic Orthodox Church|
On February 12, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a report in their online magazine Dabiq showing photos of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian construction workers that they had kidnapped in the city of Sirte, Libya, and whom they threatened to kill to "avenge the [alleged] kidnapping of Muslim women by the Egyptian Coptic Church". The men, who came from different villages in Egypt, 13 of them from Al-Our, Minya Governorate, were kidnapped in Sirte in two separate attacks on December 27, 2014, and in January 2015. This was not the first time that Egyptians in Libya have been the subject of abuse for political reasons, a pattern that goes back to the 1950s.
Earlier, in 2014, a militia group in eastern Libya declared its affiliation with ISIL and then took over parts of Derna in late 2014. People allied to the group claimed responsibility for attacks across the country, including the Corinthia Hotel attack in January 2015.
On February 15 a five-minute video was published, showing the beheading of the captives on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. A caption in the video called the captives the "People of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church". In the video, the leader was dressed in camouflage, while the other terrorists were dressed in black. The victims were all dressed in orange jumpsuits, as in many previous ISIL videos. The leader declared in North-American English:
Oh people, recently you've seen us on the hills of Al-Sham [Greater Syria] and on Dabiq's Plain, chopping off the heads that had been carrying the cross delusion for a long time, filled with spite against Islam and Muslims, and today we… are sending another message: Oh crusaders, safety for you will be only wishes especially when you're fighting us all together, therefore we will fight you all together until the war lays down its burdens and Jesus peace be upon him will descend, breaking the cross, killing the swine. The sea you've hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden's body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.
After beheading the hostages, a message appears on the screen: "The filthy blood is just some of what awaits you, in revenge for Camelia and her sisters" (referencing Camelia Shehata, a Coptic Egyptian woman and wife of a Coptic priest who Islamists believe had converted to Islam and was detained by the Coptic Church because of it. She later denied the claim). Finally the speaker declares "We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission," pointing his knife toward the sea. As in other ISIL videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits, intended as a reference to the attire of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The group of killers identified itself in the video as the "Tripoli Province" of ISIL. The leader of the squad performing the killings was identified as a Libyan expatriate who goes by the nom de guerre Al Qaqa'a Ben Omro.
Following the release of the video, several experts argued that it had been digitally manipulated and that the actual murders were likely filmed in front of a green screen and then superimposed onto the footage of the beach. The videos were manipulated to show the militants as being seven feet tall in order to propagate fear. Although there were manipulations done to the video, experts confirm that the 21 Christians were killed.
Later, when one of the perpetrators of the operation was arrested, he admitted in the investigation that the slaughter had taken place at the beach opposite Al Mahary Hotel in Sirte.
The President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced a seven-day period of national mourning and called for an urgent meeting with the country's top security body. In a televised address, al-Sisi declared his country reserved the right for retaliation. He also reiterated an offer to facilitate Egyptians' evacuation from Libya and imposed a travel ban on citizens to Libya. Al-Azhar also condemned the incident. The killings were also addressed particularly by the United Nations Security Council, French President François Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Roman Catholic Pope Francis telephoned Coptic Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences. At an ecumenical meeting with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Francis stated "They only said 'Jesus help me ...' The blood of our Christian brothers is testimony that cries out. Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn't matter: They're Christian!" The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary provided financial support of €500 for each families of the victims. Péter Szijjártó said "Hungary cannot be a bystander of the continuous attacks against Christian communities in the Middle East". The Obama administration was criticized for referring to the victims simply as Egyptian citizens rather than Christians, the express reason for their murder.
On February 16 at dawn Egyptian military conducted airstrikes on ISIL facilities in Libya. The airstrikes targeted ISIL training locations and weapons stockpiles. All military aircraft returned safely to base. Libyan air force also conducted strikes in Derna, occupied by an ISIL affiliate since 2014. About 40–50 militants and 7 civilians were reportedly killed.
Canonized as saints
On February 21, 2015 the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II announced that the 21 murdered Copts would be commemorated as martyr saints on the 8th Amshir of the Coptic calendar, which is February 15 of the Gregorian calendar. The commemoration falls on the feast day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
After the beheadings, the Coptic Orthodox church released their names, but there were only 20 names. In the video, the leader's victim was of black African descent, in contrast to the others, who were ethnic Copts. It was later learned that this 21st martyr was named Matthew Ayariga and that he was from Ghana. (A few sources say he was from Chad, but most say he was from Ghana.)
According to some sources, he was not originally a Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, "Their God is my God", knowing that he would be martyred.
When the remains of the martyrs were found, the bodies of the 20 Egyptians were returned, but there was some sadness among the Copts because Ayariga's body was not with them when they were buried. Many of the friends and families of the other martyrs want him to be buried there too, because he was martyred with them.
Return of the remains
After the expulsion of fighters of the Islamic state organization from the Libyan city of Sirte, government authorities announced it has found a place where the bodies of Coptic martyrs were buried. This was done after the government authorities and the Libyan army arrested one of the terrorists who was present during the slaughter. The Libyan Attorney General has ordered cooperation with the Egyptian authorities to send DNA samples taken from the families of the martyrs to be compared with DNA samples taken from the remains of the martyrs.
Later, it was ascertained that the remains belonged to the Coptic martyrs after comparing the samples of the DNA from martyrs families they sent by Egyptian Forensic Medicine Authority with DNA samples taken from the remains by the Libyan Forensic Medicine Commission.
On 15 May 2018, the remains of the 20 Egyptians (the body of the Ghananian, Matthew Ayariga, was not on the plane), were returned to the cathedral, which was built for them and named after them (Church of martyrs of faith and homeland) in martyrs village (formerly Al Aour or Al Awar or Al Our Egyptian Arabic: قرية العور) in Minya governorate. A special shrine has been built in which the remains were laid, So that people can visit. Churches and monasteries bells were rung all over Egypt when the remains arrived on board a plane coming from Misrata Airport in Libya to Cairo International Airport; Celebrations of the return of their remains to the homeland. They were received by Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and a large number of priests and Ambassador Nabila Makram the Egyptian minister of Immigration and Egyptians Affairs Abroad and officials of the organs of the state at the airport. The Holy Mass in church was presided over by Bishop of Samalout Anba Baphnotius.
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