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Egypt strikes Daesh targets in Libya after beheadings video

By AFP - Feb 16,2015 - Last updated at Feb 16,2015

CAIRO — Cairo carried out air strikes against Daesh targets in Libya on Monday after the militants posted a video showing the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Egypt said a "tough intervention" was needed and as France called on the UN Security Council to "take new measures" against the militants in neighbouring Libya.

With the air strikes, Egypt opened a new front against the militants. Cairo is already battling militants in the Sinai Peninsula, where scores of troops have been killed since the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the former army chief who overthrew Morsi and has been criticised for a deadly crackdown on dissent, has presented Egypt as a key partner in international efforts against the jihadists.

Monday's early morning air strikes hit Daesh camps and stores of weapons, the military said, hours after jihadists released gruesome footage of the beheadings that provoked outrage in Egypt.

Witnesses told AFP there were at least seven air strikes in Derna in the east, a hotbed of militancy since Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi was overthrown in 2011.

"[The] armed forces on Monday carried out focused air strikes in Libya against Daesh camps, places of gathering and training, and weapons depots," the military said in a statement.

Libyan air force chief Saqr Al Jaroushi told a private Egyptian broadcaster that at least 50 people were killed, a toll which could not be confirmed, and that Libyan warplanes also targeted the jihadists.

It was the first time Egypt announced military action against Islamist targets in Libya. Last year Cairo reportedly allowed the United Arab Emirates to use its bases to bomb militants there.

 

Mourning families

 

State television showed footage of Egyptian jet fighters it said were taking off to conduct the strikes.

“Avenging Egyptian blood and retaliating against criminals and killers is a duty we must carry out,” the military said.

The air strikes came hours after Sisi threatened a “suitable response” to the killings of the Coptic Christians.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was headed to Washington to take part in an “anti-terrorism” summit, the ministry said, calling for strong international action.

“Leaving matters as they are in Libya without tough intervention to curb these terrorist organisations represents a clear threat to international security and peace,” it said.

The brutal deaths of the Christians, who like thousands of poor Egyptians had travelled abroad to seek work, shocked their compatriots.

“Revenge is on the way”, read the banner on the front page of the official Al Akhbar newspaper and both the Coptic Church and the prestigious Islamic Al Azhar institution condemned the attack.

In the village of Al Our in Upper Egypt, where 14 of the victims were from, devastated family members gathered in the small local church.

“My son travelled to Libya 40 days ago, he wanted to make money for his marriage,” said Boshra, whose 22-year-old son Kirollos was among the dead.

Expressing his “profound sadness” over the killings, Pope Francis said the Copts “were executed for nothing more than the fact that they were Christians”.

Egyptian television repeatedly played the video without the beheadings, showing black-clad militants leading their captives in orange jumpsuits along a beach before forcing them to kneel down.

Analysts said attacking the militants underscores Sisi’s message that Egypt is a bulwark against a shared jihadist enemy with Western countries that have been critical of his human rights record.

“These strikes elevate Egypt to a new level in confronting extremist organisations,” said Mathieu Guidere, an Islamic studies and politics professor at the University of Toulouse.

 

International condemnation 

 

The White House led condemnation of the beheadings, saying the killers were “despicable”.

French President Francois Hollande agreed with Sisi that “the Security Council meet and that the international community take new measures to face up to this danger,” a statement from Hollande’s office said.

France on Monday signed its first export contract for Rafale jet fighters with Egypt.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced the killings and the Security Council said the murder of the Egyptian Christians was a “heinous and cowardly” act.

Libya’s embattled parliament, which is locked in a conflict with Islamist militias, expressed its condolences in a statement and called on the world to “show solidarity with Libya” against militants.

But a rival legislature, the General National Congress under the leadership of the Islamist Fajr Libya militia in control of Tripoli, called the strikes “aggression” and said they “violated Libyan sovereignty”.

Daesh militants have been hammered by US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria after taking over swathes of the two countries and the group has active affiliates in Egypt and Libya.

The group, which has declared an Islamic “caliphate” in areas under its control, has become notorious for releasing videos of its brutal executions, including of British, American and Japanese hostages as well as a Jordanian pilot it captured in December.

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