Late at night, masked gunmen captured 13 Egyptian Coptic Christians, loaded them into trucks, and hauled them away from their residential complex in the Libyan city of Sirte. The abductions come just a week after seven more Christians were taken away. Activists are calling these incidents a “pattern of persecution.”
Armed Islamist militants arrived in a residential compound built for workers in Sirte, Libya. The men went door to door, checking IDs and separating Christians from Muslims. The gunmen then took 13 people away. One surviving Coptic, Hanna Aziz, told his story to the AP.
“They were 15 armed and masked men who came in four vehicles. They had a list of full names of Christians in the building. While checking IDs, Muslims were left aside while Christians were grabbed. I heard my friends screaming, but they were quickly shushed at gunpoint. After that, we heard nothing. I am still in my room waiting for them to take me. I want to die with them.”
The Egyptian government has yet to respond to the latest abduction in Libya, although the foreign ministry did say it was following up on the seven taken earlier. Libya is host to hundreds of thousands of Egyptian foreign workers, many of them Christians from Coptic church, an ethnoreligious group that can trace its roots back to the first century AD.
As Voice of America reported, Libya has essentially been left without a government since the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The internationally recognized government, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, was forced to relocate in the eastern city of Tobruk last year, when Islamic militia groups took over the capital of Tripoli.
Since then, cities like Sirte, located between Tripoli and Benghazi, have become safe havens for terrorist groups like Ansar al-Shariah, which the U.S. government blamed for the Benghazi embassy attack that killed ambassador Chris Stevens. For Egyptian Christians left without protection, Libya has become a very dangerous place.
Magdi Malak, a Cairo-based activist investigating the Sirte case, explained, “We are witnessing a pattern of persecution against Christians in Egypt. I fear for the lives of the hostages.”
In March 2014, the bodies of seven Coptic Christians were found in the eastern city of Benghazi, all of whom were handcuffed with gunshot wounds to the head. In the same month in 2013, a powerful militia captured and tortured dozens of Coptics in a detention center because of the suspicion that they were proselytizing.
With the eastern government still struggling to retake control of Libya, Coptic Christians may be in danger for some time to come.
[Image Credit: Afanous/Wikimedia Commons]