The Egyptian Armed Forces General Command announced Monday morning the launch of the first airstrike against “Islamic State” (IS) in Libya in response to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic fishermen.
Libyan air force commander Saqr Jeroushi said during a television interview on Sada El-Balad satellite channel that the airstrikes were launched in coordination with the Libyan Air Force. He also demanded that counter-terrorism operations continue, as Libya and Egypt “have the same enemy”.
State run newspaper Al-Ahram quoted the spokesperson of the Libyan military as saying that the joint airstrikes left 64 “Islamic State” militants killed, and dozens wounded.
The Egyptian General Command noted that airstrikes targeted training camps, weapons and ammunition stores belonging to the group on the Libyan territories.
The statement read that the airstrikes achieved their objectives.
The airstrikes came hours following President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s speech on national television addressing the nation, stating that Egypt “reserves the right to retaliate at the appropriate time”.
Al-Sisi said that the National Defence Council convened to follow up on the situation’s developments, and to discuss the decisions and procedures to be taken.
He added that the government will continue “the strict implementation” of banning Egyptians from travelling to Libya, and the return of Egyptians living in Libya will be facilitated and secured.
“Islamic State” claimed the abduction of the Coptic Egyptians at the beginning of the year, with the 21 kidnapped on separate incidents. The group released a video Sunday showcasing the beheading of the 21 Egyptians kidnapped Friday, featuring militants with their faces covered and the hostages kneeling down, wearing orange suits.
One of the militants, speaking to the camera in English, addressed “the nation of the Cross” and “the hostile Egyptian Church”, threatening Christians by saying: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.”
Egyptians have been victimised by rising militancy in Libya, particularly in the cities of Sirte and Benghazi.
Reports state that 21 other fishermen were kidnapped in Libya’s Misrata. However Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdelatty told Daily News Egypt that the ministry will verify the information through communicating with Libyan officials.
Egypt pledged support to the US-led coalition against “IS” in Iraq and Al-Sham aiming to ultimately destroy the group as announced by President Barack Obama in September; however Egypt never participated militarily in the strikes.
This is not the first beheading act by “Islamic State” affiliates against Egyptians. Sinai-based militant group ‘State of Sinai’, formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, released a video on 9 February, featuring the beheading of eight Egyptian North Sinai residents, for allegedly collaborating with the Egyptian army.
The armed forces are engaged in combat against ‘State of Sinai’ in North Sinai, and have taken a range of security measures in order to counter increasing insurgency in the peninsula, including the establishment of a 5km buffer zone on the Egypt-Gaza border that involved the relocation of residents in the area.