CAIRO – A video purporting to show the mass beheading of Coptic Christian hostages has been released by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to the Islamic State group.
The video, titled “A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross,” is the first footage of mass-execution staged outside the group’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Released late Sunday night, it depicts several men in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The men are made to kneel and one militant, dressed differently that the others, addresses the camera in North American-accented English.
“All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together,” he said. “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
The men are then laid face-down and simultaneously beheaded.
The militant speaker then pointed northward and said, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”
Militants in Libya had been holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage for weeks, threatening them with death.
The makers of the video identify themselves as the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State group — the Islamic militant group that controls about a third of Syria and Iraq. Reporters were not able to immediately verify the authenticity of the video.
The Egyptian government declared a seven-day mourning period and President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi convened an emergency national security meeting to discuss a response. El-Sissi sent condolences to “the victims of terrorism,” according to a statement released by the presidency.
Qalini Sanyout, whose two nephews were among the hostages, answered the phone Sunday night amid the sound of wailing in the background.
“What can we say? Can someone tell us if this is true.” he said repeatedly. “The whole village is in mourning. Men are covering their heads with dust and mud.”
Al-Azhar, the prestigious Cairo-based seat of Islamic learning, denounced the “barbaric” killings.
In a statement, Al-Azhar said it had heard the news of the beheadings “of a group of innocent Egyptians with great sorrow and grief.”
“Al-Azhar stresses that such barbaric action has nothing to do with any religion or human values.”
The latest Islamic State video comes just days after the jihadis released footage showing the gruesome burning alive of a Jordanian pilot the group captured after his F-16 came down in Syria in December.
The highly choreographed video showing the killing of Mua’th al-Kaseasbeh triggered global outrage.
After the beheadings shown in Sunday’s video, a scrolling caption states: “The filthy blood is just some of what awaits you, in revenge for Camilia and her sisters.”
A background voice believed to be Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani says: “We swear to Allah we will take revenge, even if it takes a while.”
Egyptian women Camilia Shehata and Wafa Constantine were the wives of Coptic priests whose alleged conversion sparked a sectarian dispute in Egypt in 2010.
Shehata went missing for five days in July that year after a domestic argument before police found her and escorted her back home.
When she went missing, Coptic Christians staged protests, but when she was returned, Islamists took to the streets alleging she had willingly converted to Islam and was being held by the church against her will.
Wafa Constantine also went missing, in 2004, reportedly after her husband refused to give her a divorce. She was temporarily sequestered at a convent as reports of her conversion were circulated.