Islamic State Claims Horrific Beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya is a Warning to all 'People of the Cross"

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
16 Feb 2015

Ruthless beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by Islamic fanatics

In the latest shocking atrocity by Islamic State militants, 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya on the weekend.

This morning a video purports to show the horrific murder of the men who dressed in orange jumpsuits are made to kneel beside the sea in what is identified by militants as the coast near Tripoli before being slaughtered.

As the world reels at this latest outrage by IS which is believed to be the first such killing outside of the territory of Syria and Iraq currently under the control of the Islamic fanatics, the Coptic Orthodox Church community in Australia is in mourning.

"Our community was devastated to learn of our fellow Christians and deeply concerned for the safety of the 60,000 Copts living in Libya," says Bishop Anba Suriel, Head of the Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions, and Spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

In December and January, Libyan-based Islamic fanatics kidnapped at least 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in the city of Sirte, birthplace of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

His Grace Bishop Anba Suriel senior cleric for Australia's 80,000 Egyptian Coptic Christians

Tens of thousands of Egyptians including a large number of Coptic Christians travelled to neighbouring Libya to escape the unrest in Egypt in the wake of the 2011 uprising and the country's escalating unemployment.  Most work in the construction industry in Libya but as the nation descends into chaos and lawlessness, there has been a rise in Islamic State and affiliate militias.

A third of the city of Sirte, where the 21 Coptic Christians were kidnapped, is now under the control of IS who have taken over government buildings, radio stations and television stations.

Since Gaddafi was deposed by a NATO-backed coup, Libya has been caught up in a chaotic power struggle between two rival factions with each operating their own governments. But with the rise of radical IS militants, a third side has emerged in the nation's ongoing civil war.

With Italy just 800 kilometres from Libya, there are now very real fears that IS will begin launching terrorist strikes across the Mediterranean into Europe as part of its widening campaign of terror against the West.

Revenge of Islamic Militants in series of
horrific executions

One of the militants in the video, speaking English, makes direct reference to that possibility, saying the group now plans to "conquer Rome." Another interpretation could be a reference to the Church of Rome as well as to Christians worldwide with the caption of the video of the executions captioned: "People of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church."

In addition to the video, other horrific images were posted by IS militants yesterday including the public executions of two alleged spies and the merciless crucifying of another so-called spy in the Syrian city of Al-Bab.

The weekend also saw further terrorist outrage in Denmark in two separate incidents which left one person dead and several police injured.

But for Coptic Christians across the globe, the executions of their fellow Copts has been made even more painful by the fact that today marks the Coptic Church's Holy Great Fast to mark the beginning of Lent.

The largest Christian Church in Egypt and the Middle East, the Coptic Orthodox Church is also one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. Founded by St Mark the apostle in 55 AD, the Coptic Church has more than 12 million followers worldwide with the word Copt derived from the Greek work for Egypt, "Aigyptos."

Warning to Christians as part of IS video of mass executions in Libya

Although Australia's community of Christian Copts are shocked and dismayed by executions by IS, Bishop Suriel says the response is not one of revenge but one of great sadness.

"We are a Church of martyrs with a strong tradition of overcoming persecution peacefully," Bishop Suriel says, adding that in times of trouble the Coptic Orthodox Church turns to fasting and prayer for God's protection.

"As the Holy Great Fast begins, Copts around the world will be using this time to pray for God to protect his people and for peace to prevail," he says.