By Bel Trew, Sara Elizabeth Williams, Michael Binyon
Islamic State militants in Libya have murdered as many as 30 Christians in two mass killings, recording both incidents in a lengthy propaganda video that threatens all “worshippers of the Cross” who refuse to convert to Islam.
The 29-minute piece, released online by al-Furqan, the media wing of the Isis terror group, orders Christians to convert to Islam and pay a historical extortion tax known as jizya, or face the consequences.
The high-quality footage opens with scenes of Isis fighters destroying Christian places of worship, graves and artwork in Iraq and elsewhere. It depicts a Christian mechanic and a doctor, who profess to have paid jizya and now live under the militant group’s protection in Raqqa and Aleppo in Syria.
The video then cuts to an English-speaking fighter in the south of Libya, flanked by comrades wielding machineguns who stand guard over a group of men in shackles identified as Ethiopian Coptic Christians. The masked fighter warns that those who refuse their demands will be killed.
“You will not have safety even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam,” the man says, brandishing a pistol. “Our battle is a battle between faith and blasphemy, between truth and falsehood.” The jihadists then shoot dead the kneeling captives.
The video moves on to a similarly brutal mass killing in eastern Libya, where Isis militants are seen marching another group of Ethiopian Christians, dressed in orange jumpsuits, down a beach, before forcing them to their knees and sawing off their heads.
It closes with a warning from a man with a Yemeni accent: “Those who convert to Islam are safe. Those who refuse, we don’t have anything for them but the sword.”
The video was released on the same day that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, was in Egypt to express his condolences” to Christians in Cairo over a similar mass-beheading of Copts by Isis fighters in Libya. That killing, in February, sparked outrage across the world and prompted Egypt to launch a series of airstrikes on militant positions in Libya.
The archbishop met President Sisi in a private meeting at which he is believed to have praised the Egyptian leader’s call for a “religious revolution” to combat extremist thought, and congratulated him on his role as a champion of moderate Islam. The Archbishop then met Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Egyptian Coptic Church.
Later, he met Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, to discuss strengthening ties between Sunni Islam and English mosques.
Isis attacks on Christians have grown rapidly in the past year. In Libya, the jihadist group has exploited the lawlessness spawned by civil war to create a foothold outside Syria and Iraq. The group — which has seized vast areas of territory in the east, west and south of the country — has released several videos using Libya’s close proximity to Europe to threaten the western Christian community.
Yesterday’s video was the first to feature two mass killings, and to demonstrate the power of the newly formed south Libya branch.
“The way they edited together the two murder scenes, that’s something we haven’t seen in Isis propaganda before, and it reflects a probable sense of ‘let’s do something new to ensure this isn’t just another beheading scene’,” said Charlie Winter, a researcher with Quilliam Foundation, the anti-extremism think-tank. “The main message here is about violence.”