It is especially important that we mark the anniversary of the brutal murder of the 21 Coptic Christians in Libya a year ago, not only to keep them in our memory, but to remember and advocate for all those who continue to face persecution in the Middle East. What is happening to Christians and minorities in the region is nothing short of Genocide and we must not stand by and watch as whole communities are eradicated. These 21 Coptic Christians who lost their lives are testimony to the strength of Faith and courage of many Christians around the world, but are also a reminder that we all have a role to play in safeguarding those suffering religious persecution and gross violations of their basic human rights.
On February 12, 2015, ISIS – Daesh – released a report in their online magazine Dabiq showing photos of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians – migrant workers – that they had kidnapped in the city of Sirte, in Libya, and whom they threatened to kill to “avenge the [alleged] kidnapping of Muslim women by the Egyptian Coptic Church”.The men, who came from different villages in Egypt, 13 of them from Al-Our, Minya Governorate, had been kidnapped in Sirte in two separate attacks on December 27, 2014, and in January 2015.
On February 15, a five-minute video was published, showing the beheading of the captives on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. A caption in the video called the captives the “people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church” In the video one of the killers in camouflage declared in North-American English:
- “Oh people, recently you’ve seen us on the hills of Al-Sham [Greater Syria] and on Dabiq’s Plain, chopping off the heads that had been carrying the cross delusion for a long time…”
After beheading the hostages, the speaker finally declares “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission,” pointing his knife toward the sea. As in other ISIL videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits, intended as a reference to the attire of Guantanamo prisoners.The leader of the squad performing the killings was identified as a Libyan expatriate who calls himslef Al Qaqa’a Ben Omro.
President Sisi of Egypt announced a seven-day period of national mourning and in a televised address, al-Sisi declared his country reserved the right for retaliation.
On February 21, 2015 Pope Tawadros III, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church announced that the 21 murdered Copts would be commemorated as martyr saints, on the 8th Amshir of the Coptic calendar, which is February 15 of the Gregorian calendar.
After the beheadings, the Coptic church released their names, and it was later learned that the 21st martyr was named Mathew Ayairga and that he was from Ghana. Originally a non-Christian, he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, “Their God is my God”, knowing that he, too, would be killed.
On Wednesday February 10th, 2016, Ash wednesday, a Service of Commemoration to mark the killing of the 21 Christian Coptic Martyrs was held in the Crypt chapel of Our Lady Undercroft, in the Houses of Parliament. The Service was led by His Grace, Bishop Angaelos, and the Service Booklet contained messages from HRH the Prince of Wales , the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Christians have been rebuilding their churches which were desecrated in an orgy of violence.