CAIRO — A video purporting to show the mass beheading of Coptic Christian hostages has been released by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to the Islamic State group.
The killings raise the possibility that the Islamic militant group — which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq in a self-declared caliphate — has established a direct affiliate less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy. One of the militants in the video, speaking English, makes direct reference to that possibility, saying the group now plans to “conquer Rome.”
The Associated Press could not immediately independently verify the video. But the Egyptian government and the Coptic Church, which is based in Egypt, both declared it authentic.
The Egyptian government declared a seven-day mourning period and President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi addressed the nation late Sunday night, pledging resilience in the fight against terrorism.
“These cowardly actions will not undermine our determination” said el-Sissi, who also banned all travel to Libya by Egyptian citizens. “Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals.”
The Coptic Church in a statement called on it followers to have “confidence that their great nation won’t rest without retribution for the evil criminals.”
Militants in Libya had been holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage for weeks, all labourers rounded up from the city of Sirte in December and January. The makers of the video identify themselves as the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State group. A still photo, apparently taken from the video, was published last week in the Islamic State group’s Dabiq online magazine — indicating a direct connection between the Libyan militants and the main group.
The video, released Sunday night, depicts several men in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The men are made to kneel and one militant, dressed differently that the others, addresses the camera in North American-accented English.
“All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together,” he said. “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
The men are then laid face-down and simultaneously beheaded.
The militant speaker then pointed northward and said, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”
Qalini Sanyout, whose two nephews were among the hostages, answered the phone Sunday night amid the sound of wailing in the background.
“What can we say? Can someone tell us if this is true.” he said repeatedly. “The whole village is in mourning. Men are covering their heads with dust and mud.”