Egypt Launches Airstrikes in Derna After ISIS Beheads Coptic Christians
A video emerged Sunday evening (15 February) showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who had been kidnapped from Sirte and the surrounding area in recent weeks. The video was released by a Libyan group aligned to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). This barbaric event followed reports on Friday that ISIS fighters had taken control of the state-run radio in Sirte along with large swathes of the city. This Middle East Eye article details the strengthening presence of ISIS-aligned groups around Sirte:
The takeover of two radio stations and a semi-functioning TV station in Sirte is the latest move by the Islamic State in Libya to strengthen its presence on the coastal highway that runs between Tripoli and key oil facilities.
“After Friday prayers, they started preaching on the radio about Islam, saying that Muslims had a duty to go abroad and fight jihad,” Ahmed, a local resident, told Middle East Eye. Statements from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi were also reportedly broadcast over the airwaves. IS members who made sporadic appearances in the town were easily recognised by their long beards and Afghani-style clothing, Ahmed said.
Local authorities had previously denied any IS presence. This week, a spokesperson for Sirte Local Council said he knew nothing about it. When pressed, he said: “No comment.” The IS already controls the eastern town of Derna, and the takeover of media outlets in Sirte is IS’s second major move in the past week. Five days earlier, a convoy of armed vehicles entered the small desert town of Nufaliya, 130 kilometres east of Sirte, and declared it part of the Islamic State.
In response, the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced that “Egypt reserves the right to respond in a suitable way and time to punish these murderers,” and early on Monday 16 February launched airstrikes against ISIS positions in the eastern jihadist stronghold of Derna, supported by Libyan jets aligned with the Tobruk government. This Al-Jazeera English article gives an overview of the events:
In a statement aired on state television, the military said the attacks were carried out at dawn on Monday. The attacks focused on ISIL camps, training sites and weapons storage areas across Egypt’s border in Libya, where armed groups have thrived amid chaos, the statement said.
“The air strikes hit their targets precisely, and the falcons of our air forces returned safely to their bases,” the military’s statement said. “We affirm that avenging Egyptian blood and retaliating against criminals and killers is a duty we must carry out.”
Libyan jets loyal to the official government also took part in the air strikes, an official said on Monday. “More air strikes will be carried out today and tomorrow in coordination with Egypt,” commander Saqer al-Joroushi told al-Arabiya television.