Egypt Attacks Libyan ISIS in Retaliation for Beheading of 21 Egyptians

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An image grab taken from a video released by the jihadist media on February 15, 2015 purportedly shows black-clad ISIS fighters leading handcuffed hostages, said to be Egyptian Coptic Christians, wearing orange jumpsuits before their alleged decapitation. AFP.

Published Monday, February 16, 2015

Updated at 4:55 pm (GMT+2): Egypt's air force bombed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets inside Libya on Monday, a day after the group released a video appearing to show the beheading of 21 Egyptians there.

It was the first time Egypt confirmed launching airstrikes against the militants in neighboring Libya, suggesting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was ready to escalate his battle against militants fighting his US-backed government.

The Egyptian military sources said the dawn strike, in which Libya's air force also participated, hit ISIS camps, training sites and weapons storage areas in Libya, where a civil conflict has plunged the country into near anarchy.

Libya is grappling with a sharply deteriorating security as it is effectively controlled by former rebels who, alongside other NATO-backed groups, helped in the toppling of dictator Muammar Gaddafi but are now using their guns to fight for power.

The airstrikes came hours after Sisi threatened a "suitable response" to the killings of 21 Egyptians.

The group of Egyptian Christians, who had gone to Libya in search of jobs, were marched to a beach, forced to kneel and then beheaded, according to the video broadcast via a website that supports ISIS.

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."

Thousands of Egyptians desperate for work have traveled to Libya since an uprising at home in 2011, despite advice from their government not to go to a country sliding into lawlessness.

In a phone call to Al-Arabiya television, Brigadier Saqer al-Joroushi, the commander of the air force loyal to Libya's internationally-recognized government, said Libya had coordinated and joined Egypt in the strikes in the eastern city of Derna.

"More airstrikes will be carried out today and tomorrow in coordination with Egypt," Joroushi said.

International condemnation

Sunni Islam's top body, al-Azhar, on Sunday condemned the "barbaric" beheading of Egyptian Christians in a statement.

"Al-Azhar received the news of the execution of a group of innocent Egyptians with great sorrow and grief," the statement said.
"Al-Azhar stresses that such barbaric action has nothing to do with any religion or human values."

On February 4, after a Jordanian pilot was allegedly burned alive in Iraq by ISIS, al-Azhar called for the “killing, crucifixion and chopping of the limbs of ISIS terrorists.”

On Monday, Pope Francis expressed deep sadness for the beheading of 21 Egyptians, departing from the script of an address to emphasize the unity of all Christians regardless of the sect they follow.

The Coptic Church issued a statement saying it was "confident" the Egyptians’ killers would be brought to justice, as it confirmed those beheaded were Egyptian Copts.

Libya's embattled parliament, which is locked in a conflict with Islamist militias, also expressed its condolences in a statement and called on the world to "show solidarity with Libya" against militants.

On Monday, the UN Security Council also condemned the apparent beheadings of 21 Egyptians by ISIS militants in Libya as "heinous and cowardly."

The White House slammed the beheadings, describing the killers as "despicable" and adding that the brutality shown "further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL," an alternative acronym for the group.

French President Francois Hollande, whose government is poised to sign a deal selling Egypt advanced Rafale fighter jets on Monday, expressed his "concern at the expansion of Daesh in Libya," using another name for ISIS.

Meanwhile, Libya's Islamist-led General National Congress (GNC) condemned Monday's strike as an assault on the country's sovereignty.

"We strongly condemn the Egyptian aggression on [the city of] Derna and consider it a violation of Libya's sovereignty," GNC deputy head Awad Abdulsadeq said in a televised address on Monday.

"Libya is a sovereign state; combating terrorism on its soil should be conducted by the Libyan state," he added

Complex insurgency

Egypt, the most populous Arab state, has not taken part directly in the US-led airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, focusing instead on the increasingly complex insurgency within its own borders.

The United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Sisi, said it "would put all its capabilities to support Egypt's efforts to eradicate terrorism and the violence against its citizens."

Security officials say militants based in Libya have established ties with Sinai Province, which was previously called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Champions of Jerusalem). The group operating from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and in November has pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Sinai Province has killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police since the army toppled Islamist president Mohammed Mursi in 2013.

Militant groups claim their attacks are in retaliation for a government crackdown targeting Mursi's supporters that has left hundreds dead and thousands jailed.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters are in jail as part of a security crackdown against the group on the Brotherhood since Mursi's ouster.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it is a peaceful movement, but authorities accuse its members of being involved with a Sinai Peninsula-based Islamist insurgency.

In Libya, a number of Islamist militant groups have been active since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. A few have declared ties to ISIS and claimed high-profile attacks over recent weeks in what appears to be an intensifying campaign.

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Gaddafi's one-man rule, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.

No further military intervention, Italy says

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Monday ruled out general military intervention in Libya in the short-term after holding talks with Sisi.

With pressure for international action mounting after the beheading of 21 Egyptians, Renzi had a long telephone conversation with Sisi just hours after Egyptian warplanes bombed ISIS targets in Libya.

Sisi had agreed with Renzi that the next steps should be political and diplomatic efforts through the UN, the Italian premier's office said.

Italy had been pushing its allies to take a more proactive approach to the situation in Libya. Some of Renzi's ministers had stepped up their calls for action in recent days in reaction to the arrival of thousands of migrants who transit through Libya unhindered because of the chaos engulfing the former Italian colony.

(AFP, Reuters, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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