LIBYA: Islamic State group still holding kidnapped Egyptian Christians

January 8, 2015

 

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A Libyan group affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for recent kidnappings of Egyptian Christians in Libya.

The terrorist group, which calls itself the Islamic State of Tripoli, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of 13 Egyptian Christians in the coastal city of Sirte on 3 January, and the kidnapping of seven Egyptian Christians in Sirte on 30 December. The group posted photographs of the 20 Copts on “The International Jihad Network,” a website used by Islamic State and its allies, stating: “Urgent. Islamic State soldiers have captured 21 Crusader Christians from different parts of the Islamic State of Tripoli.”

The group claimed it had seized 21 people, but photographs of only 20 appear on the website, and it is unclear if a there was an extra kidnapping victim.

The families of the 20 kidnapped Copts, who come from Minya province in Upper Egypt, have identified all the men. Mina Thabet, a researcher with the Cairo-based Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, described the families’ shock: “I cannot begin to tell you how devastated they were as they recognised their sons. They have no idea where they are or what their fate will be.” The militants’ statement did not include demands or a condition for the release of the captives.

Names of the kidnapped men
The names of those kidnapped on 3 January are Maged Soliman Shehata, Abanoub Ayad Attyia, Yousef Shoukry Younan, Hani Abd Al-Messeih Saleeb, Kerolos Boushra Fawzy, Milad Makeen Zaky, Makram Yousef Tawadrous, Samuel Astafanous Kamel, Bishoy Ashtafouns Kamel, Mina Fayez Aziz, Malak Ibrahim Taniot, Gerges Milad Taniot and Bishoy Adel.

The names of those kidnapped on 30 December are Samuel Alahm Welson, Ezat Boushra Naseef, Louka Nagaty, Essam Badar Sameer, Malak Farag Abraam, Sameh Salah Farouk and Gaber Mouneer Adly.

All we can do is just continue praying for their safe return,” said Nassem Ghaly Kamel, a relative of several of the kidnapped Copts. Another relative, Bisheer Estefanos, a farmer from Minya, said he recognised his brothers, Bishoy and Samuel. “All we can do is pray to God for help,” he said. “Their mother is tired of crying.” He said the brothers had travelled to Libya in the hope of finding work and making enough money to start a family.

Days before the photographs were posted, the Islamic State of Tripoli announced, with photographs, that they had executed two Tunisian journalists, Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari. The group claimed the two journalists, one a reporter and the other a photographer, had “fought Allah and sowed corruption in the land“.

On 14 January, the United Nations began facilitating peace talks in Geneva between factions in the ongoing conflict in Libya, which remains divided between an internationally recognised government in the east and the Islamists who control the capital, Tripoli in the west.

Sirte is also controlled by Islamist militias, including Ansar al-Sharia, which the UN added to its terror list in November over links with al-Qaeda and for running Islamic State training camps.

Incorrect reports of Copts’ release
Several news organisations and advocacy groups published incorrect reports that the Copts had been released, based on a BBC story that confused the kidnapping with a case of Egyptians being helped across the border into Libya. In that case, complications during the border crossing resulted in the Egyptians’ disappearance, and media confusion apparently resulted from all of them being released shortly after the kidnapping of the Copts.

On 5 January the BBC and Agence France-Presse cited a Libyan news service, Al-Wasat, which quoted Libyan tribal leader Muftah Marzuq, head of the council of elders in Sirte, as saying the men had all been released. The BBC quoted him as saying “people smugglers” had detained the Christians temporarily over a financial dispute. However, they were not those kidnapped on 3 January in Sirte. On 6 January the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the reports of release were untrue.

Copts avoid kidnapping
The 13 Egyptians were abducted when a group of Islamists burst into a housing complex in Sirte, but 16 other Copts escaped. One of them, Hanna Aziz, said 15 armed and masked men went from door to door calling for Christians by name, and forced Egyptian Muslims living in the complex to lure the Copts out of their rooms. “They had a list of full names of Christians in the building,” he said. “While checking IDs, Muslims were left aside while Christians were grabbed. I heard my friends screaming.”

He escaped simply by not opening the door to the men. “It was a miracle they didn’t kick down the door down and get me,” he said. “I was literally facing death there, and it is a miracle I am not with the others.”

The kidnappers took the Copts away in four vehicles, some of which were pickup trucks with heavy machine guns mounted in the back. The next morning, the owner of the complex forced the rest of the Christians in the building to leave. They went to hide in the surrounding hills and farms.

A Libyan helped the 16 escaped Copts to find a van driver willing to go to Egypt. Each arranged to pay US$250 (€215) for transport to the border, a fee the driver raised by US$100 (€86) halfway there.

(The photograph, taken in eastern Libya on 3 October 2014, shows an armed motorcade of militants who reportedly have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.)

Poverty
Escaped Copt Hanna Aziz said poverty in Egypt had forced the men to travel to Libya, where economic prosperity beckoned if Islamist militia groups could be avoided.

If Egypt had any job opportunities or sources of income for the workers in Libya, we wouldn’t go and risk our lives there,” he said. “I personally have a wife and three kids to take care of, and there is nothing for me here to provide for them. So the next chance I have, I am going back to Libya.”

Egyptian newspaper Watani visited the home villages of the kidnapped Copts in Minya, and found their heartbroken families living on the verge of destitution. Their homes contain very little furniture and are dimly lit to conserve electricity. Each house has one or two small rooms with an adjoining shed for birds and livestock. The villagers can rarely earn more than EGP30 (about €3.60) a day, and might work for a day and be without employment for another two.

Release efforts
The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working to secure the release of the kidnapped Christians, and reportedly has received information suggesting that they are alive.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shukry delegated ministry spokesman Ambassador Badr Abdel-Ati and Muhammad Abu-Bakr, Egypt’s Ambassador to Libya, to meet the families in Minya province. Mr Abdel-Ati said the government and all its departments were doing their best to secure a conclusion quickly despite limited options and complicated conditions. He added that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had ordered the formation of a crisis committee to liaise with the Libyan side.

The Libyan Ambassador to Egypt, Fayez Gebriel, confirmed that the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had formed a joint operations room especially for the problem of the kidnapped Copts and that attempts were being made to communicate with the kidnappers. He added that the Libyan authorities were trying to contact tribal leaders who might be able to mediate in the matter.

Mr Gebriel said the fact that Egyptian labourers travel in extended family groups and all live together makes them easy for gunmen to locate. He expressed concern about other Copts living in Sirte and other areas that are not under the control of the Libyan government, but added that Egyptians working in Libya as agricultural labourers are protected by the tribal families that hire them.

Coptic Pope Tawadros II met the families of the kidnapped men and spent time reassuring and praying with them, telling the families, “The government is doing its best to find and bring back the kidnapped Copts and the Church is praying for the good Lord to protect them.”

(Christian Post, Middle East Concern, Morning Star News, Telegraph, Watani)

Suspected Islamist extremists abducted 13 Egyptian Christians in Libya – the third attack on Egyptian believers in the same area in a fortnight.

Gunmen raided a housing complex in the coastal city of Sirte in the early hours of Saturday and kidnapped 13 people, selecting them for their Christian faith. All those kidnapped were closely related and from Minya, Upper Egypt. They had reportedly come to Libya to work in construction.

Previously, on December 30, seven Christians were kidnapped as they attempted to drive back to Egypt on the coast road that passes through Sirte. And on December 23, a Coptic doctor and his wife were killed at their home in the city; their 14-year-old daughter was kidnapped and later killed. Four Christians from Egypt seized in August are still missing.

Libya has become increasingly lawless as rival militia vie for power. Sirte is renowned as a stronghold for Islamic militia groups.

(Source: Morning Star News)

For a country profile about Libya, click here.

  • Pray for the safe return of all the Egyptian Christians kidnapped in recent months. Ask God to protect and strengthen the faith of Christians in Libya.
  • Pray for peace in Libya. Pray that politicians and citizens alike will resolve to build a law-abiding nation which upholds religious tolerance.

MORE………….

LIBYA: Thirteen Egyptian Christians abducted

In the latest of a series of kidnappings and killings targeting Egyptian Christians in Libya, suspected Islamic extremists abducted 13 Christians on Saturday 3 January.

A group of armed men thought to be members of an Islamic militia group burst into a housing complex in the coastal city of Sirte at about 2 am and abducted 13 Coptic construction workers. The men were closely related and came from Samalout in Minya Governorate, Egypt. Local residents said that masked gunmen separated the Christians from Muslims, handcuffed them and took them away in cars.

Since the 2011 uprising and civil war, Sirte has become a lawless area under the control of Islamist militants who oppose the government. For more information on Libya, see the Libya Country Profile.

Mina Thabet, a noted Egyptian human rights activist and researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, said that religious motives were clearly evident: “It is obvious they are being targeted for their faith. Why are all the kidnappers asking them what their religion is before they kidnap them?

He said that the identity of the kidnappers and the killers is not known, but the group most suspected is Ansar Al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group. Libyan Minister of Interior Amer Al-Sanky stated in Libyan media that he believes Ansar Al-Sharia is responsible for this and other recent kidnappings and killings. No one has claimed responsibility for any of the incidents, and the location of the victims, or whether they are still alive, remains unknown. The kidnappers have not made ransom demands.

On Monday 5 January a tribal leader in Sirte, Moftah Marzouk, announced the release of the 13 Egyptians, insisting that they had not been kidnapped but had been detained by traffickers over a money-related dispute. However, on 7 January Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty denied this, saying, “I have no confirmed information about their situation“.

The Egyptian foreign ministry has announced that it is in extensive communication with the Libyan government and local authorities in Sirte following the kidnapping. On 5 January, a “crisis cell” was formed by order of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to “secure the lives of Egyptians kidnapped in Libya” and work on their release. The ministry has repeatedly issued warnings to Egyptians about travelling to Libya, and has called on Egyptians currently in Libya to find refuge in safe areas and stay clear of militia strongholds.

Reaction in Samalout
A relative of the missing men named Naseem, who lives in Samalout and did not want to be further identified, said the family and Christian community in Samalout are crushed: “The feeling of depression and worry and sadness is indescribable. But if it’s God’s will for them to be martyrs for the name of Christ, like the apostles, and a witness to the kidnappers, we pray God will provide grace, peace and acceptance of His will.

Naseem said that the men had been in Sirte for between six months and two years, and that they had all left Egypt for the promise of better opportunities in Libya: “The economic situation here is very bad. We all just have high school diplomas. But there are no jobs available, and we all have responsibilities, families to take care of. Some wanted to save up to get married, and Libya had its doors open with job opportunities, and that’s why they decided to go. We hold our prayers up to God, because he is the only one who can help us.”

The men had tried to return home several times, but there were no flights from Libya to Egypt and the roads were too dangerous for travel.

Other recent kidnappings and murders
Saturday’s kidnapping was the third act of violence against Egyptian Christians in Sirte in less than two weeks. On 30 December, seven Christians were kidnapped while trying to drive home to Egypt on the coast road that passes through Sirte. They were reportedly abducted at a fake checkpoint as they tried to leave the city.

On 23 December, Coptic doctor Magdy Sobhy Tawfiq and his pharmacist wife Sahar Talaat Rizq were shot to death at their home in Sirte, when a group of masked, armed men broke in. Their daughter Katrine Magdy Sobhy (14) was kidnapped, and her body was found in the desert west of the city two days later; she had been shot three times. Two younger daughters, Carla (10) and Carol (9), were left behind. No money or valuables were taken.

A funeral service for the family was held in Tanat, Egypt, on 30 December. The family had wanted to leave Libya because of the increasing danger, but they were unable to as Magdy’s employer withheld his passport. Local Islamists had threatened Katrine with demands that she wear a veil.

In an earlier incident, on 25 August, four Christians from Egypt were kidnapped while driving home. They have not been seen or heard from since.

Names of the kidnapped men
The names of those kidnapped on 3 January are Maged Soliman Shehata, Abanoub Ayad Attyia, Yousef Shoukry Younan, Hani Abd Al-Messeih Saleeb, Kerolos Boushra Fawzy, Milad Makeen Zaky, Makram Yousef Tawadrous, Samuel Astafanous Kamel, Bishoy Ashtafouns Kamel, Mina Fayez Aziz, Malak Ibrahim Taniot, Gerges Milad Taniot and Bishoy Adel.

The names of those kidnapped on 30 December are Samuel Alahm Welson, Ezat Boushra Naseef, Louka Nagaty, Essam Badar Sameer, Malak Farag Abraam, Sameh Salah Farouk and Gaber Mouneer Adly.

Bishop voices concern about attacks
The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, has issued a statement about the attacks:

It is deeply concerning to witness the unprovoked, targeted and escalating attacks on Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, particularly but not exclusively in Sirte. In recent years Coptic Christians in Libya have endured horrific acts of brutality that include the bombing of churches, abductions, torture, and execution style murders. In recent weeks alone we have seen the murder of a Coptic Christian couple and their daughter in Sirte, and the kidnapping of thirteen Coptic men in the same area. Since December 2014 to date there have been reports of at least twenty abductions of Coptic Christians in Libya and these numbers continue to escalate.

In personal conversation with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, as well as representatives from the Diocese of Boheira and Pentapolis, we are aware that the Egyptian government is liaising with Libyan authorities and working to provide safe passage for Coptic Christians returning from Libya, an initiative welcomed at this time.

Out of serious concern and in light of these circumstances a meeting is currently being sought with the Libyan Ambassador to Britain for further discussion of these constantly evolving events.

At a time when Coptic and other Christian families are preparing to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, we pray for those who are literally concerned for their lives in Libya as well as for countless other Christians and minority groups across the Middle East who are victims of war, violence, and unrest.

(All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, Al-Wasat, BBC, Irish Times, Middle East North Africa Financial Network/Daily News Egypt, Morning Star News)

 

Published by Julian Kennedy

Bus pass carrying 67 year old disciple of Jesus Christ. Member and deacon of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, Ballymena. Married to Marianna. Son Joseph at home. Two daughters Marie Isabel and Kirsty in England. Enjoys keeping fit (including indoor rowing), watching track and field, nature and nature documentries. Got hip replacement in April 2014 and major surgery to re-align right knee in November 2017. Blessed in the Covenant love of God in Christ. Retired Emergency Medicine Specialty Doctor.

3 thoughts on “LIBYA: Islamic State group still holding kidnapped Egyptian Christians

      1. I have a similar blog as well at : encounteringjesusandhismission.wordpress.com . I would like to write blog posts on Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, and Nigeria next.

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