(CNSNews.com) – The appearance of a video Sunday purporting to show Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadists beheading 21 Egyptian Christians abducted in Libya comes just days after the terrorist group’s propaganda publication called for the murder of “Coptic crusaders” everywhere.
“It is important for Muslims everywhere to know that there is no doubt in the great reward to be found on Judgment Day for those who spill the blood of these Coptic crusaders wherever they may be found ...”
The article, which was accompanied by photos that appear to be stills from the mass beheading video, appeared in the 83-page, seventh issue of the publication Dabiq, which appeared online on Thursday.
It accused Copts, an Orthodox Christian minority dating back to first century church, of being followers of Pope Shenouda III – head of the church from 1971 until his death in 2012 – and of “the taghut [idolator] Sisi,” a reference to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is also reviled by Islamists.
The photos, like the video, show the hostages being led along a beach, dressed in orange jumpsuits – favored by terrorists in an apparent reference to the jumpsuits worn by Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Each man was accompanied by a masked terrorist in black, and the video showed a knife placed at each captive’s throat.
The hostages were apparently among a group of Copts working in central Libya, kidnapped in armed raids in December and January.
The Libyan parliament at the weekend confirmed their deaths, Egypt’s state newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
The Dabiq article sought to justify the killing of the Copts by citing two cases of Egyptian Coptic women who allegedly converted – or tried to convert or were forced to convert – to Islam some years ago, but were reportedly later hidden in church properties.
The controversial cases sparked clashes between Salafist Muslims and Copts which saw churches torched in Cairo in mid-2011, months after former dictator Hosni Mubarak’s departure.
The claims about Kamilia Shehata and Wafa Constantine, both wives of Coptic priests, were also cited by al-Qaeda in Iraq – the precursor of ISIS – as justification for an October 2010 attack on a Chaldean Catholic church in Baghdad which cost the lives of two priests, 44 congregants and seven Iraqi security force members. At the time it was the deadliest single act of violence against minority Christians in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.
The Dabiq article referred to that attack on the Our Lady of Salvation church, saying the murder of the 21 Copts in Libya came “almost five years after the blessed operation against the Baghdad church executed in revenge for Kamilia Shehata, Wafa Constantine, and other sisters who were tortured and murdered by the Coptic Church in Egypt.”
(No evidence has come to light that either of the named women were tortured or killed. Egyptian news reports cited by the Associated Press in 2010 said Shehata was staying with nuns in a church residence in Cairo while Constantine lived in a monastery in the desert south of Alexandria.)
Sisi urged to act
The article said the church in Baghdad had been chosen for the attack because “at the time the Islamic State was distant from Egypt and so could not easily target the Coptic crusaders there.”
It had targeted the church in Iraq to prove to Shenouda that if his church persecuted Muslims in Egypt “he would be directly responsible for every single Christian killed anywhere in the world when the Islamic State sought its just revenge.”
The ISIS article also used the opportunity to take a dig at its latter-day rival, al-Qaeda, recalling that after the Baghdad church attack both al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and propagandist Adam Gadahn (“Azzam al-Amriki”) had defended Christians.
“So while the Islamic State targeted the Catholics in revenge for the sisters imprisoned by the Copts, Azzam al-Amriki’s commander [Zawahiri] was wooing the war-waging Copts themselves with feeble words …”
Before the execution video emerged the U.S.-based organization Coptic Solidarity in a statement urged the Egyptian government to do everything possible to save the hostages.
“Coptic Solidarity holds the Egyptian government responsible to protect its own citizens in Libya, including evacuating them from areas of danger,” it said. “The Egyptian government to date has been lax and done very little regarding the despicable deaths and kidnapping of Copts in Libya.”
“Coptic Solidarity urges President al-Sisi to immediately take the lead to save the innocent workers, abducted for their faith and possibly to revenge Mr. Sisi’s war on Islamist fighters,” the group said. “Confronting the Islamist State terrorists in Egypt’s western flank is no less important than combating them in Sinai.”
Sisi said Sunday his government reserved the right to retaliate for the killing of the Copts, and that the National Defense Council was meeting to decide on a response.
He ordered the government to tighten a ban on travel to Libya, to give full support for the families of the victims, and to take steps to ease the repatriation of Egyptians wanting to leave the neighboring country.
The government also declared a week of national mourning.