In a gruesome replay of beheadings of captive Christians, an Islamic State video disseminated on social media Sunday purportedly shows the point-blank shootings and decapitations of two groups of Ethiopian Christians in Libya.
It depicts the killings taking place in what were apparently two locations, one described as being in the country’s south and the other showing a sunny Mediterranean beach. The same English-speaking fighter who presided over similar killings in a video released in February declares, “We are back again.”
The Ethiopian Christians, if their identity is ascertained, join a long list of victims of Islamic State. In Iraq and Syria, the group has taken particular aim at religious minorities, including Yazidis and Assyrians, while enforcing a more widespread reign of terror with such tactics as public executions, mass abductions and sexual enslavement, together with the destruction of cultural treasures.
The nearly half-hour-long video, carrying the imprint of the militant group’s production arm, Al-Furqan Media, echoed the choreographed savagery of the February one, which showed the simultaneous beheadings of 21 men, 20 of them Egyptian Coptic Christians, on a Libyan beach.
Egypt at the time retaliated with airstrikes and tried without success to marshal regional support for military action against Islamist groups in Libya. But Egypt is a major military power, whereas Ethiopia’s use of force has mainly been confined to war with its neighbor, Eritrea.
Many of the executed Copts were from the same few wretchedly poor villages in southern Egypt. Impoverished and desperate laborers from nearby countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, continue to seek employment in Libya despite the mortal risks they run merely by being present in the collapsing North African nation. Christians have been at particular peril.
In the new video, released one week after Eastern Rite Christians celebrated Easter, the black-clad apparent ringleader informs “the nation of the cross” that Christians falling under Islamic State’s control face death if they do not accept Islam, according to a transcript provided by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant activity. The killings were carried out to “take revenge for Muslim blood,” the chief executioner said.
“We swear to Allah … you will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam,” he said. “Our battle is a battle between faith and blasphemy.”
In the video, black-clad captives kneel before a line of masked fighters dressed in military-style camouflage uniforms and armed with automatic weapons, with a few scrubby tree branches in the background. Most of the kneeling men bow their heads, but in a still photo, one directs an abjectly terrified gaze at the camera.
Elsewhere, more African-appearing men are forced to kneel on the beach, their orange jumpsuits — like those seen in previous videos — contrasting with the bright blue water behind them. Like the February video, this one lingers on the aftermath of their beheadings, with the waves stained red with blood and the executed men’s severed heads placed atop their corpses with faces plainly visible.
The exact number of victims could not be determined from the videos, which panned along the lines of men, but the two groups together appeared at least as large as that of the slain Coptic Christians. They were identified in a caption as adherents of “the hostile Ethiopian church.”
The video’s date and locations could not be independently verified, but depictions of previous killings have been authenticated by Western intelligence services.
Libya has fallen into chaos, with an array of heavily armed militias battling for political power and energy wealth. They are organized loosely into two factions loyal to either the Islamist-leaning former parliament or an internationally recognized government based in the country’s east.
Neither has gained the upper hand in months of fighting that has caused tens of thousands of Libyans to flee their homes, and international mediation efforts have failed.
Islamic militant groups across North Africa have declared allegiance to the Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State, whose home base lies in a swath of Iraq and Syria. In Libya, militants identifying themselves as Islamic State loyalists have carried out strikes, including the deadly bombing of a luxury hotel in Tripoli in January.
The violence against Christians by Islamic State and other groups has drawn expressions of horror from Christian leaders, including Pope Francis. On Sunday, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was visiting Egypt to express condolences over the Copts’ executions.