, Ethiopia, Apr 21 – Ethiopia will on Tuesday begin three days of national mourning for more than 20 Ethiopian Christians killed by Islamic State militants in Libya.
Ethiopian Communications Minister Redwan Hussein told AFP on Monday that parliament would launch the official start of the mourning period on Tuesday, while state television said flags would fly at half mast.
The murders have horrified Ethiopians and sparked global condemnation, including from Pope Francis who expressed “great distress and sadness” over the “shocking” violence.
A 29-minute video released Sunday by the IS group purports to show militants in Libya holding two groups of captives, described in text captions as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.
A masked fighter in black brandishing a pistol makes a statement threatening Christians if they do not convert to Islam.
The video then switches between footage of one group of about 12 men being beheaded by masked militants on a beach and another group of at least 16 being shot in the head in a desert area.
Addis Ababa has condemned the killings and said its embassy in Egypt was trying to confirm the exact toll and the identities of the dead.
“Many of them were Ethiopians, even though we don’t know the exact number yet,” Redwan said, adding that it remained unclear if it would be possible to recover the bodies.
African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma denounced the “barbaric and cowardly act”.
She said the 54-member bloc — which is headquartered in Addis Ababa — would boost efforts “towards the restoration of effective state institutions and security in Libya.”
The United States has called the killings “brutal mass murder”, while the European Union said it was a “criminal” effort to create religious divisions.
Pope Francis expressed his solidarity in a message to Abune Mathias, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
“With great distress and sadness I learn of the further shocking violence perpetrated against innocent Christians in Libya,” he wrote.
The Cairo-based top Muslim body Al-Azhar also condemned the “heinous terrorist crime” and said the jihadists’ actions “do not comply by any means with any religion, human laws and customs”.
Almost two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians, the majority of those Orthodox Copts — who say they have been in the Horn of Africa nation since the first century AD — as well as large numbers of Protestants.
Islam also has an ancient history in Ethiopia, brought to the country by some of the earliest followers of the Prophet Mohammed, who were sheltered there by the Christian king.
The Islamic State, which has seized chunks of Syria and Iraq, has won the support of jihadist groups across Middle East and north Africa. Several jihadist groups in conflict-wracked Libya have pledged allegiance to the militants.