Egypt: Attack On Coptic Christians Prompts Government Strike On Libyan “Jihadist Camps”

Egyptian armed forces have launched six air strikes on “terrorist camps” near the Libyan town of Derna on Friday, reported Egypt state media. According to military sources and Reuters, the air raids targeted “jihadist camps” and were the government’s response to an attack on a bus carrying Coptic Christians earlier that day, which left at least 29 dead and many more injured, among them women and children. ISIS has once again claimed responsibility for the massacre.

The New York Times reported that the group of Coptic Christians was on their way to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor in the Central Egyptian Minya province when gunmen stopped their convoy on a desert road and opened fire with automatic weapons. According to CNN, Egypt’s Ministry of the Interior reported the assailants wore military uniforms and masks and sped off in four-wheel drive vehicles.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the hits near the border with Libya and on the Sinai Peninsula late Friday on state-run Nile TV, vowing to “strike terrorist camps anywhere” and to “protect his people from evil,” reported BBC.

This is not the first time Egypt has launched air raids against ISIS in Libya. In 2015, when militants beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians and released a video, the military responded by bombing several sites of suspected jihadist camps.

The Coptic minority, whose faith is based on the teachings of the apostle Mark, constitutes about 10% of Egypt’s population of approximately 91 million. According to an Amnesty International report in March, there has been a worrying increase in attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, including physical assault and burning and looting of their churches and homes.

On April 9, 46 Coptic Christians were killed in two suicide bombings at churches in the northern Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Tanta when they attended Palm Sunday services, reported BBC. In response to this massacre, President Sisi declared a three-month nationwide state of emergency and promised to do everything in his power to confront the militants. But the Copts live in constant fear and many are concerned that the government is not doing enough to protect them, reported BBC correspondent Orla Guerin in Cairo.

Since the outbreak of the civil war and overthrow of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya is controlled by an estimated 1,700 rival authorities and militias, and al-Qaeda and ISIS have used the political turmoil to establish their presence.

According to The New Arab, Libya currently has two opposing parliaments and three governments – the latest one was established with the help of the UN to replace the other two. However, a government imposed by Western powers is not well accepted.

But the UN believes there is hope. The UN special envoy for Libya, Martin Kobler, announced a new approach to the political chaos. Earlier this month, Kobler tweeted about his agenda for Libya: “First, the Libyan Political Agreement is the only basis for ending the conflict and any amendments must be agreed upon by all Libyans. Second, creating one security apparatus, and all security departments must be prohibited from using violence. Third, the Libyan economic and financial situations must be stable with more cooperation between financial and economic institutions and the Presidential Council. Fourth, engage all of Libya’s conflicting parties in the national reconciliation drive, and local governing bodies must develop, and the elected mayors must be given the authorities and financial support to allow them to make a change. Finally, Libya’s neighbouring countries should cooperate to bring the Libyan political and military stakeholders to the dialogue table.”

Kobler and the UN Security Council urged all parties to listen to the “voice of reason,” to respect international human rights law, and instead of pushing their political agendas through violence, to work together towards national reconciliation.