Cairo, Egypt, Feb 16 – Egypt’s leader vowed to punish the “murderers” responsible for the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians after the Islamic State group in Libya released a video on Sunday purportedly showing the mass killing.
A visibly angry President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Egypt “reserves the right to respond in a suitable way and time” in a televised speech, and declared seven days of mourning after the video was distributed by jihadists on social media.
The footage shows 21 handcuffed hostages wearing orange jumpsuits being beheaded by their black-suited captors on a beach the group said was in the Libyan province of Tripoli.
In the latest issue of the IS online magazine Dabiq, the group had said the same number of Egyptian hostages were being held in Libya.
The Egyptian leader also called a meeting of a top security body in Cairo that includes his defence and interior ministers along with top military figures.
The White House led condemnation of the apparent beheadings, describing the killers as “despicable” and adding that the brutality shown “further galvanises the international community to unite against ISIL,” an alternative acronym for the group.
IS militants have been hammered by US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria after taking over swathes of the two countries, and the group has active affiliates in Egypt and Libya.
The Coptic Church issued a statement saying it was “confident” the Christians’ killers would be brought to justice as it confirmed those beheaded were Egyptian Copts.
Al-Azhar, the prestigious Cairo-based seat of Islamic learning, denounced the “barbaric” killings.
Egyptian state television broadcast some of the footage from the IS video without showing the beheadings but depicting the hostages being marched along by their captors on a beach.
Sunday’s video, entitled “A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross”, has a scrolling caption in the first few seconds referring to the hostages as “people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church”.
The IS branch in Libya had claimed in January to have abducted 21 Christians.