Egypt in mourning over executions

CAIRO - Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Monday declared seven days of national mourning after an Isis video showed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians taken hostage in Libya.

President El Sisi,  who was due to meet a group of editors from 16 African countries on Monday,  called off the State House engagement as he met his security advisers in a crisis meeting after the militant group for the first time executed Egyptian nationals outside its core territory of Syria and Iraq.

In a televised address, president El Sisi said Egypt would choose “the necessary means to avenge the killings” that has shocked this nation to the core.

He also telephoned the Coptic Patriach Pope Tawadros II to extend his condolences,  officials said. Footage released by Isis showed the mass beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians by fighters in a recently formed arm of the militant group in the North African country’s war-torn neighbour Libya.

The emergence of Isis in Libya has heightened instability in Egypt,  which has suffered rising terror attacks in recent days,  including a roadside bombing in Cairo last Friday that killed a police captain and wounded eight others in the neighbourhood of Ain Shams.

The beheading comes as Isis members seized control of a State-run radio station in Libya’s coastal city of Sirte.  Jihadists websites also posted pictures showing armed men sitting in front of microphones in a radio studio and brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles,  airing speeches by Isis spokesperson Abu Mohamed al-Adnani declaring an Islamic emirate in Sirte.

There is growing concern that Isis was capitalising on the chaos in Libya to establish and expand a base of operations there. At least three groups of Libyan fighters have already pledged loyalty to Isis,  and the beheading came just after  relatives of the kidnapped Egyptians had protested in Cairo demanding their release.

As the military-backed government here works to defeat the Islamist factions in neighbouring Libya, supporters of the government cited the video released on Sunday as new evidence that those factions pose a real and present danger to Egypt’s own security.

The gruesome executions came hardly a week after president El Sisi pledged that “Egyptians would be airlifted out of Libya” and that he would “spare no effort in tracking down kidnapped citizens.”

Confirming that those killed in the video were Egyptian Christians taken hostage in Libya weeks ago,  El Sisi urged the international community to stand up against terrorism which he said was threatening this region.

The White House voiced support to Egypt’s government and sent condolences to the victims’ families, condemning the “despicable and cowardly” killings.

The French Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who arrived in Cairo on Monday for talks with his Egyptian counterpart general Sedqi Sobhi,  also condemned the executions.

Isis posted the beheading video on its English-language online magazine Dabiq.  The beheading was conducted on the shores of the Mediterranean. 

Both the Egyptian government and the Coptic Church have confirmed that captives seen in a photograph with the announcement were the missing Egyptian Christians, and on Sunday confirmed  they were killed in the video.

In the video — titled: A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross — masked fighters dressed in black with machetes at their chests, filmed themselves beheading the kneeling captives in orange jumpsuits.

The executioner shouts:  “O people, recently you have seen us on the hills of al-Sham and Dabiq’s plain, chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time. And today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message.”

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