Kidnapped Copts held by Libyans

23 January 2015

Missing: relatives hold photographs of the abducted men, in front of the foreign ministry in Cairo, on Monday AP 

Missing: relatives hold photographs of the abducted men, in front of the foreign ministry in Cairo, on Monday AP 

THE Egyptian Foreign Ministry says that it is working closely with its contacts in Libya to try to secure the release of 21 Copts who were abducted in at least two separate incidents over the past month.

After a period of confusion about the fate of the missing Christians, a group affiliated to Islamic State (IS) said that it had carried out the kidnapping, and published a picture of 20 people whom it was holding. An IS statement accompanying the picture said: "Urgent. Soldiers of the Islamic State captured 21 Christian crusaders." The group did not say where the Copts were being held or whether any demands were being made.

A report in The Daily Telegraph said that a farmer, Bisheer Estefanos, from Minya, in Upper Egypt, identified at least two of the captives pictured as being his own brothers, Bishoy and Samuel. "All we can do is pray to God for help," Mr Estefanos said. "Their mother is worn out from crying."

Mina Thabet, a researcher with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, which is based in Cairo, said that other family members in Egypt had also recognised their loved ones: "I cannot begin to tell you how devastated they were as they recognised their sons. They have no idea where they are or what their fate will be."

The Libyan ambassador to Egypt, Fayez Jibril, confirmed that the abductions were carried out by the Libyan branch of IS and were directed against Christians. This "cowardly criminal" act bore no relation to Libyan customs and traditions, he said in a statement.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has set up a crisis task force that is in continuous session and in contact with various Libyan parties to follow up on the issue of the abductees. A spokesman declined to elaborate on the steps being taken. Because of the unrest in Libya, the Egyptian embassy is closed, and it is deemed unsafe for officials to go there.

Libya also has two rival governments seeking to establish authority over a country where real power is in the hands of armed militias. The Foreign Ministry in Cairo has renewed its warning to Egyptians against travelling to Libya.

The Revd Mikhail Bacchus, of St Mina's Coptic Orthodox Church in Giza, quoted on the Al-Shorfa website, said: "When it comes to terrorism, there is no difference between an Egyptian Muslim and an Egyptian Copt. So, we consider this kidnapping to be directed against Egypt and all Egyptians."

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