In the latest in a series of grisly mass executions, ISIS claims to have killed dozens of Ethiopian Christians captured by affiliates in Libya. A video, released online Sunday by the extremist group, casts Christians as crusaders intent on murdering Muslims, according to The Guardian. During 29 minutes of footage, around 15 can be seen being beheaded on a beach, before another 15 men are shot in the head in a different location. ISIS claims that one group was held in eastern Libya, while the other was held in the south.
The video’s veracity has not yet been confirmed, and the captives’ identity is uncertain. An Ethiopian communications official, Redwan Hussein, told Reuters that he could not confirm the victims’ nationalities. But he stipulated to AFP that he condemned the killings, “whether they are Ethiopians or not.” Ethiopia’s Egyptian embassy was working to identify the victims Sunday, Hussein said. According to Al Jazeera, the video bore the emblem of ISIS’s official media branch, Al-Furqan, and appeared similar in style to other videos disseminated by the group.
In the video, a lone masked combatant wields a pistol and delivers a statement to camera, before the video cuts between the executions of the two different groups. In his extended speech, the fighter stipulates that Christians must convert to Islam, or else pay a special tax demanded by the Quran. “Muslim blood shed under the hands of your religions is not cheap,” he says. “To the nation of the cross: we are now back again.” An on-screen caption identifies the victims as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church.”
ISIS runs a sophisticated PR and media operation, pumping out a deluge of “Mujatweets,” bizarre cat memes, and weekly television newscasts, as well as chilling videos of purported killings. In February, a video was released that showed militants beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, also in Libya. At the time, the video was received as an indication of ISIS’s rapid spread outwards from its base in Syria and Iraq. In retaliation, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt initiated air strikes against militant-held positions in Libya.
ISIS has also consistently brutalized religious minorities (whom the group considers apostates) within its stomping ground of Syria and Iraq — among them, Yazidis (ethnic Kurds who adhere to a syncretic religion, mixing elements of Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism), and Assyrian Christians (members of an ancient and embattled church).
These actions have prompted commentators to warn of the potential extermination of the Christian presence in the Middle East, and drawn the condemnation of religious leaders, including Pope Francis. On Sunday, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby of the Church of England was in Egypt to offer his condolences for the February massacre of the Egyptian Copts, according to The Guardian.
Ethiopia is a majority-Christian country, and most of those Christians follow the Coptic faith — around 40 percent of the country's 90 million-strong population. Orthodox Copts believe their church has flourished in Ethiopia since the first century A.D. Many Ethiopians, according to The Guardian, travel to Libya and other countries in northern Africa looking for jobs — and, sometimes, for passage to Europe.
The Washington Post reports that ISIS currently holds a third of Iraq and Syria, meanwhile political turmoil in Libya (which is currently split between two warring governments and plagued by extremist groups) has allowed the group to infiltrate the country. Although airstrikes against ISIS, conducted by a U.S.-led coalition of nations in Syria and Iraq, have allowed pro-government forces to recover some territory, the group is far from broken.
Earlier this week, ISIS launched an offensive against the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s central Anbar province, prompting Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to warn that the extremists’ spread may become unstoppable. As of Sunday, the militants had reportedly captured 20 percent of the city.
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