Islamic State: Egypt urges international intervention in Libya

  • Published
Media caption,

The Egyptian defence ministry has released cockpit video footage reportedly showing air strikes in eastern Libya

Egypt has called on the international community to intervene against Islamic State (IS) militants in Libya.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that what was happening in Libya was a threat to world peace and security.

His remarks came as Egyptian jets bombed IS targets in response to a militant video of the apparent beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Libya has been in chaos since 2011, with militias battling for control of territory and two rival governments.

But the BBC's Jim Muir says there is little international appetite for military involvement and the emphasis remains on trying to find a political and diplomatic solution to the country's problems.

'Clear danger'

Mr Sisi spoke by phone to French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi about the Libya situation.

He has also sent Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri to New York for consultations with UN officials.

"What is happening in Libya is a threat to international peace and security," the president said.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Mr Sisi sees IS in Libya as a threat to Egyptian and international security

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by the AP news agency that "immediate and effective" action was needed and maintaining the status quo constituted a "clear danger".

It also urged the US-led coalition conducting air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria to give political and material support to Egypt.

'Threat to Europe'

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Ambassador to the UK, Nasser Kamel, told the BBC that Libya was a problem for Europe in particular because of its closeness to Italy.

"[There are] boat people who go for immigration purposes and try to cross the Mediterranean," he said. "In the next few weeks if we do not act together, there will be boats full of terrorists also."

Italy has said it is prepared to lead an international force in Libya, but only if rival factions can be persuaded to cease fighting.

Mr Renzi's office said after the talks with Mr Sisi that the two sides agreed that the next moves should be diplomatic.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
There was open grief in Al-Our, Egypt, where many of the Coptic Christians were from

Strikes 'to continue'

Egyptian state TV said the air strikes - at dawn on Monday - had targeted camps, training sites and weapons storage areas.

Libyan officials said Egypt hit targets in the militant-held city of Derna and had been co-ordinated with the country's internationally recognised government. Between 40 and 50 people had been killed, they said.

Media caption,

The BBC's Orla Guerin: "In the village of Al-Our, grief echoed through the streets"

Several hours later, the AP news agency quoted unnamed security officials as saying that Egyptian warplanes had again struck Derna.

Military sources said the action would continue but there would be no need for ground troops at present.

The strikes came in response to a video which emerged on Sunday showing militants forcing a group of men to the ground and decapitating them.

The kidnapped Egyptian workers, all Coptic Christians, were seized in separate incidents in December and January from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya, which is under the control of Islamist groups.

The video of the beheadings was posted online by Libyan jihadists who pledge loyalty to IS. It was one of the first such videos to come from an IS group outside its core territory in Syria and Iraq.

The video describes the Copts as "crusaders" and refers among other things to two women, wives of Coptic priests, whose alleged conversion to Islam triggered a sectarian dispute in Egypt in 2010.

At the scene: Orla Guerin, BBC News, Al-Our, Egypt

Image source, AFP

Thirteen of the dead men came from the village of Al-Our, in Minya.

Screams of grief come from several houses in the dusty back streets, and groups of black-clad women go from house to house to offer condolences. One woman, wailing in the street, tells us she has lost five relatives.

In the packed courtyard of the church, mourners are gathering for a memorial service.

Local men say they are desperate for work and Libya is their only hope of a job. Many say they still have relatives working there, and that villagers will continue to go there in search of work.

Media caption,

Coptic Christians are a significant minority in Egypt

The BBC's Jim Muir says anger has been felt throughout Egypt by Muslims and Christians alike, and the killings are being seen as an attack on national dignity.

Egypt is already fighting Islamist insurgents based in the Sinai peninsula who have declared their allegiance to Islamic State.

Libya is home to a large community of both Muslim and Coptic Egyptians, with most working in the construction sector.

But Libya has been in chaos since 2011 and the overthrow of its then-leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi.

It has two rival governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk.

The eastern city of Benghazi - where the 2011 revolution began - is largely in the hands of militant fighters, some with links to al-Qaeda.

Libya's rival power bases

  • Tripoli: government appointed by old parliament that challenged legitimacy of last year's elections
  • Tobruk: internationally recognised government, ousted from capital not long after 2014 election
  • Both backed by loose alliance of militias focused on local interests
  • Benghazi: second city and headquarters of 2011 Revolution, largely in hands of Islamist fighters, some with links to al-Qaeda
  • Misrata: third city and main port, also loyal to Tripoli authorities. Its militias keep them in power.
  • Derna: home to Islamic State