ISIS released a video titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross” on February 15 showing masked ISIS militants beheading 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians on a secluded beach in Libya. The captives were forced to kneel and then lie down on the beach, where the masked men kneeling on their backs proceeded to saw at their necks. The masked figures report to be IS operatives of the Libyan Province of the Caliphate. The video then concludes with images of their decapitated heads lying on each victim’s back, their blood turning the waters of the Mediterranean red, and a threat that ISIS is soon to come to Rome. The spokesperson indicated that the victims were being slaughtered for refusing to give up their Christian faith and each of the victims were heard shouting “Ya Rabbi Yasou” or “Oh my Lord Jesus” in unison as the blades met their necks.
Due to the recent political and economic problems in Egypt, many Copts were forced to seek work outside of the country, with Libya’s oil industry being a viable solution for many. It is likely
that those beheaded by ISIS had traveled to Libya for this purpose.
President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi condemned the actions with strong words and and vowed that Cairo would choose the “necessary means and timing to avenge the criminal killings.” An air strike carried out on February 16 which focused on training facilities and weapons caches which the extremist group seems to have acquired the state which neighbors Egypt to the west. Libya’s air force commander indicated that Libyan war jets joined the Egyptians during the strikes.
On February 17, Pope Francis offered Mass for the repose of their souls, saying, “[We pray] our brother Copts, whose throats were slit for the sole reason of being Christian, that the Lord welcome them as martyrs, for their families, (and) for my brother Tawadros, who is suffering greatly.” The Holy Father continued by focusing on passages from Genesis that point to man’s wickedness before the Flood and decried the purely destructive attitude of the executioners’ actions. The Vatican Information Service reports that the Pontiff called Pope Tawadros II the night before to express his participation in the sorrow of the Coptic Orthodox Church for the massacre of their sons.
On February 21, Pope Tawadros announced the inclusion of the 21 New Martyrs of Libya in the Coptic Synaxarion, a move that is tantamount to Canonization. Usually, the Coptic Orthodox Church imposes a 50-year wait period before declaring a person a martyr or a saint, but due to the video evidence of their martyrdom, the waiting period has been waived. Their feast day will be commemorated on 8 Amshir on the Coptic calendar, which corresponds to February 15 on the Gregorian calendar.
Analysis of the video calls into question some of the details. The Florida based Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium contends there are “many production anomalies” in the video. The footage, which is heavily edited with gory jump cuts and other special effects, may have been further doctored, since the ISIS personnel seem to tower at least two feet over the Christians at the beginning of the video, suggesting by biometric comparisons that all of the ISIS militants would have to have been taller than 7 feet. Others have questioned whether the horrific events were actually filmed in a beach in Libya or whether a green screen was used and footage of the sea was later added. All these details, which seem to be edited, point to a necessity on the behalf of ISIS for the dramatic, inciting them to represent themselves as bigger and stronger than they really are.
Below are the names of the New Martyrs of Libya as reported by the Coptic Church: