Tue, Feb 17, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Egypt strikes IS in Libya after mass killing video

AP, CAIRO

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, center, with top Egyptian military generals, on Sunday attends an emergency meeting in Cairo of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Photo: AFP

Egyptian warplanes struck Islamic State (IS) targets in Libya yesterday in swift retribution for the extremists’ apparent beheading of a group of Egyptian Christian hostages on a beach, purportedly shown in a grisly online video released hours earlier.

An Egyptian armed forces spokesman announced the strikes on state radio, marking the first time that Cairo has publicly acknowledged taking military action in Libya, where extremist groups seen as a threat to both nations have exploited the chaos following the 2011 uprising against former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The statement said the aircraft targeted weapons caches and training camps before returning safely. It said the “intense strikes” were “to avenge the bloodshed and to seek retribution from the killers.”

“Let those far and near know that Egyptians have a shield to protect and safeguard the security of the country and a sword that amputates terrorism and extremism,” it said.

Egypt is already battling a burgeoning Muslim insurgency in the strategic Sinai Peninsula, where militants have recently declared their allegiance to the Islamic State group and rely heavily on arms smuggled across the porous desert border between Egypt and Libya.

The strikes also come just a month before Egypt is scheduled to host a major donor’s conference at a Sinai resort aimed at attracting foreign investment needed to revive the economy after more than four years of turmoil following its own 2011 uprising.

Libyan air force commander Saqr al-Joroushi told Egyptian state TV that the air strikes were coordinated with the Libyan side and that they killed about 50 militants. Separately, a Libyan security official told reporters by telephone that Egyptian warplanes struck four extremist positions in the eastern city of Darna, an extremist stronghold that was taken over by an Islamic State affiliate last year.

Two Libyan security officials said civilians, including three children and two women, were killed in the strikes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The Libyan air force said that it had carried out its own strikes in Darna, without providing further details.

The video purporting to show the mass beheading of the Coptic Christian hostages was released late on Sunday by militants in Libya affiliated with the Islamic State group.

The killings raise the possibility that the extremist group — which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq in a self-declared caliphate — has established an affiliate less than 800km from the southern tip of Italy. One of the militants in the video said the group now plans to “conquer Rome.”

The militants had rounded up 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian workers from the coastal city of Sirte in December last year and last month. It was not clear from the video whether all 21 hostages were killed.

It was one of the first beheading videos from an Islamic State group affiliate to come from outside the group’s core territory in Syria and Iraq, and displayed the sophisticated techniques used in previous videos.

The Egyptian government declared a seven-day mourning period after the release of the video, and a visibly angry Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi addressed the nation late on Sunday night. He also dispatched Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shukri to New York to hold consultations with UN officials and Security Council members ahead of a conference on terrorism opening tomorrow in Washington.

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