Islamic State released a video on Sunday 19 April purporting to depict the massacre of 30 Christians, mostly Ethiopian, in Libya.
The 29-minute video, titled Until There Came to Them Clear Evidence, shows masked militants beheading 15 men on a beach and shooting 15 others with rifles to the back of the head in scrubland. It follows an Islamic State video released in February that showed 20 Egyptian Copts beheaded in Libya. The new video attempts to justify the targeting of Christians by claiming their slaughter is permitted if they refuse to convert to Islam or to pay the jizya (protection tax).
The video begins by outlining the early history of Christianity and the schisms in the church. The narrator condemns the doctrine of the Trinity as apostasy, brands Christians as infidels and says they must pay the jizya or face slaughter.
Almost two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians, many of them Copts, along with a large Protestant population.
“To the nation of the cross, we’re back again,” says a masked militant, before the executions. “Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap. We swear to Allah… you will not have safety even in your dreams until you embrace Islam.”
The first scene shows a group of Christians dressed in black, on their knees, arms tied behind their backs, while masked militants stand behind them with rifles aimed at their heads. According to the video, this takes place in the city of Fezzan. The captives are described as “worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian Church“.
The second scene shows another group, dressed in orange uniforms, standing on the shores of Barqa, the region where the Egyptian Christians were beheaded.
The final scenes show the Christians being executed.
At the end of the video, Islamic State cleric Abu Malik Anas An-Nashwan says, “We tell Christians everywhere that the Islamic State will spread, God willing. It will reach you even if you are in fortresses. Those who embrace Islam or jizya will be safe. But those who refuse… will have nothing from us but the edge of the sword. The men will be killed, the women and children enslaved, and the money seized. That is Allah and the prophet’s judgment.“
It is thought that the main motivation for the massacre may have been to make a video that would cause terror and would be used to recruit for Islamic State.
Most of the victims of the massacre were Ethiopian but the Telegraph reported that three of the men seen on the video were Eritrean. They had sought asylum in Israel, but left for Uganda last summer, from where they fled to Libya after finding they had no legal status.
One of the Eritreans, Tesfay Kidana (pictured), appeared in an orange jump suit amongst the group that was beheaded. Tesfay’s friend Amen Beyena said, “He left for Uganda, then, after realising he had no legal protection there, went through Sudan to Libya. His plan was to try his luck and get on a migrant ship to Europe. But he was in a group that was picked up by Daesh [Islamic State] on their way from Benghazi to Tripoli.”
Many Ethiopians travel to North Africa to seek employment or to go on to Europe. In this case, it is likely that the victims could not pay the jizya because, as poor migrant workers, they did not have the money. They refused their only other option, which was to renounce their Christian faith and convert to Islam.
Tesfaye Wolde, from Addis Ababa, saw his only brother Balcha Belete executed on the video. He said Balcha, an electrician, and his friend Eyasu Yekuneamelak (also executed) left Ethiopia two months ago to seek work and a better life. Eyasu’s grieving mother, Ahaza Kassaye, is pictured below. The two men travelled first to Sudan and then to Libya, in the hope of crossing to Italy, but before they could leave Africa they were captured by Islamic State militants.
“I am very sad, I lost my brother, my one and only brother, but there are many more Ethiopians who are losing their lives – they are being dropped into the ocean,” Tesfaye said.
“They wanted to change their lives, improve their condition – life is very difficult here,” said Mersha Mitku, a friend of both men. He said he knows at least 25 others who took the same route to Libya: six made it safely to Italy, but he has no news from the rest.
Thousands of migrants fleeing war and hardship have died in shipwrecks off Europe’s southern shores. On Sunday 19 April, an estimated 800 people drowned off Libya in the Mediterranean’s worst migrant disaster, and during the past week alone, more than 11,000 migrants were rescued.
There has been global condemnation of the murders, including from Pope Francis, who expressed his “great distress and sadness“. Abune Mathias, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, called the killings “repugnant“, and said, “We have a duty to raise our voice to tell the world that the killing of the innocent like animals is completely unacceptable.“
Ethiopia began three days of national mourning on Tuesday 21 April, when hundreds marched through the capital Addis Ababa demanding justice for the victims. Joint prayers were held with Muslim leaders, led by Sheikh Mohammed Jemal, head of Ethiopia’s Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, who said the killing of people like “chickens” had no place in Islam.
(Daily Mail, Guardian, Raymond Ibrahim, Telegraph)