Egypt’s military said in a statement on state television that it had carried out an air strike against Islamic State (IS) targets in Libya at dawn on Monday, a day after the group released a video appearing to show the beheading of 21 Egyptians there.
The attack focused on Islamic State camps, training sites and weapons storage areas across Egypt’s border in Libya, where the militants have thrived amid chaos
“Your armed forces on Monday carried out focused air strikes in Libya against Daesh camps, places of gathering and training, and weapons depots,” the military said in a statement, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
State television showed footage of Egyptian fighter jets it said were taking off to conduct the strikes.
The Islamic State militant group released a video on Sunday purporting to show the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped in Libya. Egypt’s Coptic Church confirmed that the 21 workers were dead. In the video, militants in black marched the captives, dressed in orange jump suits, to a beach the group said was near Tripoli. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded.
The video appeared on the Twitter feed of a website that supports Islamic State, which has seized parts of Iraq and Syria and has also beheaded Western hostages. A caption on the five-minute video read: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” Before the killings, one of the militants stood with a knife in his hand and said: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.”
Sunday’s video prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to call for seven-days of mourning and an urgent meeting of Egypt’s top military commanders, state television reported.
The Coptic Church said it was confident the Cairo government would seek justice. Al Azhar, the centre of Islamic learning in Egypt, said no religion would accept such “barbaric” acts.
The families of the kidnapped workers had urged Cairo to help secure their release. In the southerly Minya Governorate, relatives screamed and fainted upon hearing news of the deaths.
Sisi has repeatedly expressed concerns about militants based in Libya who are seeking to topple his government. Those militants have made contact with Sinai Province, a group operating from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that has changed its name from Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis and pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
The group has killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police since the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
With Libya caught in a chaotic power struggle between two rival factions operating their own governments, Western officials fear militants are taking advantage of the turmoil to strengthen their presence. A number of militant groups have been active since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 left Libya without a strong central government. A few have declared ties to the radical Islamic State and claimed high-profile attacks over recent weeks in what appears to be an intensifying campaign.
Last month, Islamic State claimed responsibility when at least two gunmen stormed into the five-star Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, killing nine people, including an American security contractor and a Frenchman.
Fears that the crisis in neighbouring Libya could spill across the border have prompted Egypt to upgrade its military hardware. French President Francois Hollande has said Egypt will order 24 Rafale fighter jets, a naval frigate and related military equipment in a deal to be signed in Cairo on Monday worth more than 5 billion euros ($5.7 billion)