Egypt Vows To Avenge Deaths Of Coptic Christians
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Egypt is reeling after the self-described Islamic State released a gruesome video appearing to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. They were killed in neighboring Libya. Egypt's president addressed the nation last night and vowed that his country would avenge the dead.
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PRESIDENT ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI: (Foreign language spoken).
MONTAGNE: At dawn, Egypt announced that its warplanes carried out airstrikes on Islamic State targets inside Libya. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now to discuss the latest. Good morning.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Well, tell us first a little more about this video, which would seem to represent an expansion by the Islamic State or ISIS into Libya.
FADEL: Well, the video was slickly produced as a lot of these propaganda videos from the so-called Islamic State are. The men were walked on to a beach said to be near Tripoli and basically beheaded. The video appears to show more coordination between the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq into Libya, closer to Europe, outside of Tripoli. So a very marked expansion, if you will.
MONTAGNE: Well, how big of a problem has - is ISIS becoming or is it inside Libya?
FADEL: Well, Libya has a serious security vacuum. Multiple factions are competing for power, different independent militias fighting over power, resources, oil. The country has two governments, the internationally recognized government in the East, which says it's fighting a war on terror and a government in Tripoli backed by a loose umbrella of militias that include radical elements. I just want you to hear what the defense minister from the internationally recognized government said in a recent interview I did while in Libya.
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UNIDENTIFIED LIBYAN DEFENSE MINISTER: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: He's saying that this fight between his government and the government in the West is allowing for extremists like ISIS to grow inside Libya. He also says that there are a lot of fighters that they're now seeing coming from Syria to join the fight in Tripoli and in the eastern bastion for the so-called Islamic State called Derna. He says they need more international help to stave off ISIS thriving in the power vacuum that exists there.
MONTAGNE: Let's get back for a moment to those victims, those Coptic Christians. How did it happen that they were in Libya and that they were targeted?
FADEL: Well, tens of thousands of Egyptians go to Libya to find work, working-class Egyptians looking for a better life for their families. These 21 men were those types of Egyptians. They were just looking for a better life. And last month, the local affiliate of the so-called Islamic State posted pictures of the 21 men they say they kidnapped in a city called Sirte in Libya. And then we heard nothing about them for weeks and weeks until this video was released.
MONTAGNE: Would they have been targeted because they were Christian?
FADEL: Well, that was made clear in the video that they were targeted as Christian Egyptians. Egypt has supported the Eastern government in their so-called war on terror, and they say they were targeted - this video said they were targeted due to their religion.
You know, just a reminder, the so-called Islamic State has been wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria but extremist elements and militias in Libya have also been wreaking havoc on Libyan lives every day. There have been assassinations. There have been deaths. So this is a wider problem than one group or one faction. It's really hurting the lives of so many, both Christian, Muslim and beyond.
MONTAGNE: And, Leila, what about the families of the dead? How have they responded?
FADEL: Well, the families went on local talk shows last night and said that Egypt really hadn't done enough to bring their loved ones home in one piece and safely, and they really want the bodies at least to be returned to them so they can bury them and find peace. They did say they urged Egypt to avenge the death of their loved ones militarily and that they would join the fight themselves if they had to.
MONTAGNE: And of course, Egypt has responded this morning with airstrikes. Will there be more military intervention?
FADEL: Well, previous to this, Egypt had shied away from being involved in any coalition against ISIS militarily outside of Egypt. But today marked a change in that position, especially because Libya is neighboring to Egypt and can cause security problems here. It's unclear if they'll continue to do more airstrikes. We spoke to a spokesman at the Ministry of Defense that said he can't divulge what the plan is going forward.
MONTAGNE: But the idea is there is going to be something going forward.
FADEL: Possibly. We're not sure.
MONTAGNE: Leila, thanks very much.
FADEL: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Leila Fadel speaking to us from Cairo.
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Correction Feb. 16, 2015
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly said the Egyptians were kidnapped last week.