On Sunday, Feb. 15, Libyan Islamic militants released a video that purportedly shows the simultaneous beheading of a group of Coptic (Egyptian Christian) hostages. The video’s authenticity has since been confirmed by spokespeople for the Coptic Church as well as Egypt’s government. This sample politics essay will cover the details of this horrific act of terror.
Islamic militancy in Libya
ISIS has a long history of terrorism and this marked the first beheading video from an ISIS-affiliated group to have originated outside of Iraq or Syria. The terrorists abducted the Egyptian laborers during raids of Sirte, Libya, over the New Year. Twenty-one Coptics were taken hostage, though it’s unclear whether all were executed at the time of the video.
The video has raised questions as to whether ISIS—which now controls roughly one-third of Iraq and Syria—has gained a group of allies in Libya, which sits less than 500 miles from the boot point of Italy. The Euro nation is even called out in the video by one of the terrorists, who says that his group intends to “conquer Rome.” Earlier this month, a screenshot of the group—which refers to itself as the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State—circulated online after being published on Dabiq, an online magazine run by the Islamic State.
Political reactions to ISIS terrorist attacks
Decrying the beheadings as “despicable” and “cowardly” in a Sunday statement, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest emphasized the need for a resolution on Libya’s inner turmoil:
“the continuation of which only benefits terrorist groups.”
He further called on the North African nation’s citizens to unite against this militant infusion (“Video purports”). Addressing his mourning nation the day the video went public, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi—who has banned citizen air travel to and from Libya—vowed to retaliate against the terrorists. By Monday, Egyptian warplanes had struck several ISIS strongholds within Libya.
The families of the beheaded Christians
Thirteen of the Coptic hostages came from El-Aour, a poor village in northeast Egypt. As soon as the Tripoli photo was released, relatives of the captured braced themselves for the worst possible news. According to mourning colleagues who spoke with CBN, the victims were abducted and slain for their Christian ethics and faith and support of el-Sissi (Martin).
The villagers allege negligence on the part of the Egyptian government, which they say has rescued Muslim nationals who’ve been abducted by Libyan Forces but didn’t take action here because the hostages were Christian. One hostage, Samuel Walham, was recognized in the photo—being held at knifepoint alongside four other captives—from family back at home. His grieving mother, Ibtassal Lami, said that he’d gone to Libya merely to make money.
Still in disbelief, as the video went viral, villager Qalini Sanyout said that everyone in his community was mourning the gruesome spectacle. The Coptic Churchgoer, who recognized two of his nephews among the captives, asked the Associated Press:
“Can someone tell us if this is true,” (Smith).
Egyptian workers in Libya
Short on labor after a devastating 2011 civil war, Libya had since become a magnet for skilled foreign workers, who’ve poured into the oil-rich nation in hopes of making good money. Egyptians comprise the largest group of those taking this opportunity, regardless of trade. However, this has all become riskier—especially for Copts—amidst escalating political strife. Nonetheless, many Egyptian workers are still drawn to the prospects of a better paycheck across the border, despite the recent travel ban.
ISIS raids in Sirte
Walham arrived in the strife-ridden nation just months before the militant’s Aug. 2014 takeover of Libya’s capital: Tripoli. He soon secured a plumbing job in war-torn Sirte, where he was abducted on Dec. 28 during a raid of the coastal city.
The following week, ISIS militants kidnapped another 13 Coptic laborers during a raid on a nearby housing compound. Present during the maelstrom was El-Aour-born Abanoub Ishaq, who hid silently in his room as the gunmen went door-to-door in search of Christians. He claims to have:
“heard nothing but [his] friends’ screams, [which] were [quickly] silenced.”
The 19-year-old was lucky; he was given fair warning by a sympathetic Muslim neighbor (“Video purports”).
Fellow survivor Hanna Aziz provided a bit more detail on the incident, saying that the 2:30 a.m. raid was carried out by 15 armed, masked militants. Arriving in four vehicles, the gunmen had a list with the names of Coptics who were staying at the compound. Checking IDs to sort Muslims from Christians, the latter were then cuffed and carted away. While three of his relatives were among the captured, Aziz himself survived by not answering his door.
“I am still in my room waiting for them to take me. I want to die with them,” he said to the AP, apparently guilt-ridden over having escaped the fate of his relatives (“Egyptian Christians kidnapped”).
Camelia Shehata converts from Christianity to Islam
Towards the end of the video, the Tripoli group imply that the beheadings serve as penance for the plight of Egyptian woman Camelia Shehata, who militants have long championed as a prisoner of the Coptic Church. In 2010, Shehata purportedly converted from Christian to Islam while attempting to flee an undesired marriage to a Coptic priest.
She was soon located by Egyptian authorities and—by some accounts—placed back in the custody of the Church, which forbids divorce. Though she would later deny that she’d ever converted to Islam or been held against her will by the Coptic Church, her story has since fueled terrorist activity in the area, including a New Years Eve 2010 church bombing in Alexandria.
Speculations on the ISIS beheading video’s ringleader
According to one linguistics expert who spoke to FOX’s Gretchen Carlson about the video, the militant who addresses the camera is likely to have been educated in the U.S. Appearing on the Feb. 18 broadcast of The Real Story, North Carolina State University acoustics/dialects professor Erick Thomas noted that the mystery man’s pronunciation of certain consonants and vowels displayed an Americanized cognizance of the English language. Two examples that Thomas gave of:
“a good sign of influence from another language” were the militant’s pronunciation of the “O” vowel in the word “Rome,” and the use of a hard “G” in the words “chopping” and “fighting” (“Figure in ISIS”).
ISIS threats against Italy
While Islamic militants overrun Libya’s most populous cities, fears are mounting across the Mediterranean. In light of the threat against Rome, Italy is voicing concerns about a potential an Islamic terrorist group invasion. Reacting to the video’s cryptic message, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promptly shut the Italian embassy in Tripoli and assured that his nation was prepared to stand up to any foreign aggression.
Given Italy’s small military, Renzi’s words have aroused skepticism among stateside pundits. As progressive radio host David Pakman pointed out on a Feb. 19 broadcast, Italy has merely 5,000 deployable troops. Noting the country’s membership in NATO, Pakman and co-host/producer Louis Motamedi wagered that while Italy would get backing if an invasion does occur, the country would be on its own in carrying out pre-emptive strikes (Pakman).
While most pundits are considering the need for increased U.S. military involvement around the strongholds of ISIS, others see the militant’s taunts against the West as a trap. On a Feb. 18 broadcast of The Young Turks, host Cenk Uygur asserted that ISIS—lacking the capacity to invade the U.S.—actually wants to lure more American troops onto its turf (Uygur)./p>
Pointing to the militant’s belief in the prophecy of Armageddon—in which everyone dies by the end except the perpetrators—Uygur insists that the gruesome videos are their way of provoking global outcries and luring more western troops to the slaughter. While he doesn’t believe that ISIS forces could defeat U.S. troops, he insists that increased war efforts would give the militants what they crave most: American bloodshed. The TYT host has long attributed the rise of ISIS to Iraqi destabilization, which he blames on Washington’s prolonged war efforts. Consequently he feels that further U.S. strikes would merely perpetuate the vicious cycle and provoke further radicalization throughout the region (Uygur).
“Video purports to show ISIS militants beheading Christian hostages.” FOX News. FOX News Network, LLC. 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Martin, Mark. “Revenge Strikes: Egypt Bombs ISIS after Beheadings.” CBN News. The Christian Broadcasting Network. 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Smith, Lewis. “Isis video purports to show militants beheading Egyptian Coptic Christian hostages.” The Independent. Independent Print Ltd. 15 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
“Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya.” Aljazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network. 3 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
“Figure in ISIS mass beheading video could have US ties, linguistic expert says.” FOX News. FOX News Network, LLC. 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Pakman, David. “It’s Happening: Italy Fears ISIS Invasion from Libya.”The David Pakman Show. n.p. 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015
Uygur, Cenk. “How We’re Walking Into An ISIS Trap.” The Young Turks. TYT Network. 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015
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