The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from its branches in southern and eastern Libya executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.
Prefaced by extensive speeches and interviews that appear to take place in the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq, the video of the killings, if confirmed, would be the first evidence that the group’s leaders in those countries are coordinating with fighters under the group’s banner in those parts of Libya, compounding fears of its expansion across the Mediterranean.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, released a video in February that appeared to show masked fighters in its western Libyan branch, the so-called Tripolitania Province of the Islamic State, beheading a group of Egyptian Christians who had been abducted in the city of Surt. The group has now established control of Surt, and its fighters there are sporadically battling militia troops from the nearby city of Misurata.
The video released on Sunday appears to show Islamic State fighters in what the group calls its “Fezzan Province,” in the south, and its “Barqa Province,” in the east, carrying out executions according to the group’s trademark rituals.
Militants in Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State and its self-declared caliphate, but Libya is the first country outside the group’s territory in Syria and Iraq where its core leadership has demonstrated practical communication and collaboration with its far-flung “provinces.”
If more confirmation of its authenticity emerges, the video will upend both Western and Libyan views of the Islamic State’s presence in the country. Fighters in the three regions of Libya had previously claimed responsibility for various acts of violence carried out in the Islamic State’s name, but most analysts presumed that most of those fighters, at least the ones outside Surt, were operating independently and using the name to capitalize on the group’s fearsome reputation.
Now fighters in all three provinces appear connected enough to the core group’s leadership that they were able to coordinate separate, mass executions, film them and send the video back to Syria or Iraq for production and release.
During the last five minutes of the half-hour video, the video cuts back and forth between scenes in the southern desert and a beach along the coast, at one point displaying both with a split screen. Both were filmed with the same sophisticated camera angles and editing that have distinguished other Islamic State films from indigenous Libyan videos.
Masked fighters lead a row of bound captives dressed in black into the desert and then shoot each of the prisoners in the back of the head. Another group of masked fighters leads a row of prisoners in orange jumpsuits along a beach and then beheads each of them with a long knife. The video shows fighters placing the severed heads on the bodies lying on the sand as bloody surf washes over them.
“You will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you accept Islam,” declares a masked figure, speaking English with an American accent and pointing a revolver at the camera. “To the nation of the cross: We are back again.”
Of all the places the militants have used the group’s name, Libya may also be uniquely vulnerable to penetration because of the collapse of any central authority since the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi four years ago.
Over the last nine months, its feuding militias and city-states have split into two main warring factions — one controls the capital, Tripoli, and the other, including the internationally recognized government, has fled to the eastern cities of Tobruk and Bayda. Both factions have so far appeared more intent on fighting each other than uniting to stop the Islamic State’s expansion.
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