President Sisi had vowed to ‘avenge the criminal killings’ after release of video purporting to show killing of 21 Christians, believed to be kidnapped Egyptians
Egypt reported that its war planes had struck Isis targets in Libya, shortly after President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi vowed revenge for the release by Isis-affiliated militants of a video of a mass killing of Christians.
A spokesman for the Armed Forces General Command announced the strikes on state radio Monday, marking the first time Cairo had publicly acknowledged taking military action in neighbouring Libya.
The statement said the warplanes targeted weapons caches and training camps before returning safely. It said the strikes were “to avenge the bloodshed and to seek retribution from the killers”.
“Let those far and near know that Egyptians have a shield that protects them,” it said.
Libya’s air force meanwhile announced it had launched strikes in the eastern city of Darna, which was taken over by an Isis affiliate last year. The announcement, on the Facebook page of the air force chief of staff, did not provide further details.
The video, released on Sunday evening, claimed to show the mass beheading of 21 Christians – believed to be mostly Egyptians – kidnapped in Libya.
The US said the video showed the “wanton killing of innocents” and the UK foreign minister condemned the “barbaric” act.
The five-minute video was filmed in a style similar to that of previous videos depicting the murders of western prisoners by Isis, an armed group that overran large parts of Iraq and Syria last year.
At least 21 Egyptians were kidnapped in two separate incidents in the city of Sirte, Libya in December and January.
Relatives of the hostages had previously identified the captured men in media released by Isis, including an online magazine published days ago.
The video depicts several men in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The men are made to kneel and one militant, dressed differently to the others, addresses the camera in North American-accented English.
“All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together,” he says. “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
The men are then made to lie face down and all are simultaneously beheaded. The militant speaker then points northward and says: “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”
Mina Thabet, a researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, who has been communicating regularly with the families of the hostages, said he believed that all but one of the victims in the video were Egyptians.
Thabet blamed the Egyptian government for what he asserted was a delayed response to the hostage crisis. “There is blood on the hands of the authorities who could have saved them but failed to.”
In the weeks between the abduction and the release of the video, the families of the kidnapped Egyptians criticised what they saw as an inadequate response to the kidnapping.
The men’s families complained that Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs did not immediately respond to their inquiries. One relative said the ministry had advised the families not to speak to the media.
The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, called an urgent meeting of the national defence council and declared a seven-day mourning period, according to a statement from the president’s office.
“It is with deep sorrow that President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi mourns the Egyptian victims of an abhorrent act of terrorism in Libya and offers his deepest condolences to the Egyptian people for their grave loss,” the statement said.
He later said on national television that Egypt reserved the right to respond to the murders in a way it sees fit. Sisi warned that Cairo would choose the “necessary means and timing to avenge the criminal killings”.
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SOURCE: The Guardian
Jared Malsin, Chris Stephen and agencies in Cairo