Libya's ISIS branch claims execution of two Tunisian journalists

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Tunisian journalists gather on January 8, 2015 at the headquarters of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists in Tunis after the Libyan branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group claimed they executed Tunisian journalist Sofiene Chourabi and photographer Nadhir Ktari, who both went missing in Libya in September. Photo: AFP / Fethi Belaid

Published Friday, January 9, 2015

The Libyan branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed on Thursday to have executed two Tunisian journalists who went missing in September, in an online statement that sparked outrage and protest in Tunis.

The statement on militants websites showing images of journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, saying the group had "applied the law of God" against them.

After ISIS' branch in Libya claimed the executions, people gathered at the headquarters of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists in the Tunisian capital to protest the killings.

ISIS, which has seized chunks of Iraq and Syria, is thought to have gained a foothold in the Libyan eastern city of Derna amid the chaos in the country since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

In the militants’ statement, signed by the "communication service of the province of Barqa," the group accused the two Tunisians of having worked for "a satellite channel that fights religion." Barqa is the Arabic name for the Cyrenaica region of eastern Libya.

One picture showed the two young journalists at the time of their arrest alongside an armed man in fatigues, his face covered.

The fourth and final photo is almost totally black. It appears to show a bullet being fired at a kneeling person and carries the Muslim profession of faith – "there is no God but God and Mohammad is His messenger."

A caption speaks of "implementing the rule of God on Chourabi and Ktari, those who fought God and sowed corruption in the land."

Chourabi, an investigative journalist and blogger who was active during Tunisia's 2011 uprising, and Ktari, a photographer, went missing in the Ajdabiya district of eastern Libya on September 8.

The two had been taken captive by an armed group near the town of Brega, further west, on September 3, but were released a few days later after the Tunisian authorities intervened.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said they were working for a new Tunisian channel called First TV, and added they were subsequently arrested by a militia and then disappeared.

RSF had expressed its "serious concern" over their situation and called on "everyone involved in Libya's transition to work toward their return safe and sound to Tunisia."

Almost four years after the NATO-backed war ended Muammar 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.

Amid this conflict Islamist militants have also gained territory in eastern Libya. In December, the Islamists who pledged loyalty to ISIS staged a military parade in Derna with tanks and combatants.

Analysts say a number of factions in Derna have pledged loyalty to ISIS, but it remains unclear how much support they enjoy. A top US military general also claimed that ISIS has set up training camps in eastern Libya.

Shock in Tunis

Thursday's news sparked horror in Tunisia, particularly on social media networks, where people expressed their shock and disbelief, many expressing hope because there had not been any official confirmation.

Dozens of people, mostly journalists and many in tears, gathered outside the headquarters of the journalists' union in Tunis to wait for news.

An interior ministry official said "we are still not certain of the veracity of these photos," adding that the men had been arrested by "radical Islamists" at a roadblock near the city of Derna, many kilometers to the northeast of Ajdabiya.

For his part, Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi told Express FM radio "we hope this information is not true. These are innocent journalists who went to Libya to do their job."

Hamdi expressed frustration over failed efforts to secure the two men's release, saying "we do not know who kidnapped them, why they kidnapped them or where they are."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

Comments

It saddens me, a retired American journalist who loved the Middle East and North Africa, to see these violent men--criminals frankly--killing journalists who are non-combatants, just because they can. It's the worst kind of abuse of power and moral corruption and I call on all Imams and decent Muslims and non-Muslims to rise up and refuse to tolerate any longer this kind of insanity. You must fight for your freedoms...

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