Two days after sending warplanes to hit Islamic State targets in Libya, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sisi -- a former military chief -- visited troops in the border zone on Wednesday and vowed to fight “terrorist” groups.
Egypt has appealed for international help in taking on the militants of the Islamic State, who late Sunday posted a gruesome video online purporting to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Copts who had been kidnapped while working as laborers in Libya. The Coptic church said Wednesday that one of those executed was not Egyptian, but from elsewhere in Africa.
Sisi’s government vowed retribution for the killings, which caused an outburst of grief in the impoverished villages that the men had left to seek jobs.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, many of whom crossed the frontier clandestinely, are thought to be in Libya, where wages are much higher than at home. The government has forbidden any more Egyptians to cross into Libya, which is riven by fighting among an array of militias.
Coptic Christians, who often face discrimination at home, are disproportionately represented among the migrant workforce.
The Egyptian military disclosed little about Sisi’s visit to the Libyan border, with a spokesman saying he was accompanied by Defense Minister Sedki Sobhy, and had met with military troops and tribal leaders. State media showed images of the Egyptian leader, in sunglasses and civilian garb, huddling with uniformed military officials and poring over large maps spread out on the ground.
Egypt’s 700-mile frontier with Libya, much of it lying in remote desert regions, has become a source of concern as Libya has descended into chaos in recent months. Egypt is also fighting an Islamic insurgency on its eastern flank, in the Sinai Peninsula, and a second front in the west could strain its military resources, giving added importance to the allegiance of tribes in the frontier zone.
Egyptian officials said security along the border has been stepped up with the aim of preventing infiltration by militants, but did not give details.
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