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Islamic State executes dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

In a video that could not be independently verified, IS affiliates in Libya execute Ethiopians apparently trying to reach Europe
An image grab from a video reportedly released by Islamic State (IS) group shows Ethiopian Christians kneeling in front of their capturers on 19 April 2015 (AFP)

A video released by the Islamic State’s Libyan affiliates on Sunday shows the alleged killing of dozens of Ethiopian Christian captives. 

The 29-minute video, which bore the official logo of IS’s media arm al-Furqan and resembled previous videos released by the group, showed the IS militants holding two separate groups of captives. One group was held in eastern Libya's Barka province, and the second group in the Fazzan province, in the south.

The blindfolded prisoners in the video, titled “Until it Came to Them- Clear Evidence”, are forced to kneel on the ground, held by their necks by IS fighters armed with long rifles and in balaclavas.

It is eerily similar to a recording in February when the militant group beheaded 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt on the beach in Libya, which resulted in immediate airstrikes by the Egyptian government on the IS group's suspected positions in Libya. However, as the latest executions demonstrate, the air strikes seem to have little effect on hindering the actions of the IS Libyan affiliate.

Ethiopia has now confirmed that dozens of its male citizens were murdered. 

In a statement, the government said it had relied on numerous sources to confirm that the victims were Ethiopian migrant workers in Libya. Earlier reports suggested that some had been trying to access Europe through Libya. Recent weeks have seen a serious spike in migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, with hundreds already dying en route. 

In this weekend's recording, one of the IS fighters delivers a statement about “Christian-Muslim” relations, superimposed by images of churches and altars being destroyed by IS.

The footage cuts to Christians in Syria, and explains how they were given the choice to either convert to Islam or pay a “special tax”. A text on the screen identifies the men as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.

“To the nation of the cross…Muslim blood that was shed on the hand of your religion is not cheap,” the fighter says in English. “We swear to Allah, you will not have safety even in your dreams until you embrace Islam.

The video, which could not be independently verified, then switches between footage of at least 16 captives in the south being shot to death in a desert area and around 12 men being beheaded on a beach in the east.

It was not clear how many captives were killed, or when they were captured.

Ethiopia's religious institutions have condemned executions.

"It was sad that the group that perpetrated the massacre did so in the name of religion," Sheikh Mohammed Awol Umar Jamal, head of Ethiopia's Supreme Islamic Affairs Council, said in a statement issued on Monday.

"Their actions are anti-Islamic," he added.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has also condemned the massacre, describing it as "an act of wickedness".

"The Orthodox Church prays for those slain," the statement read, going on to express the church's condolences for the families of the victims.

The Ethiopian Interfaith Council likewise condemned the purported executions.

Libya, which is riddled with fractious fighting, does not have an Ethiopian embassy. 

The United States has also condemned the "brutal mass murder" of what it said was 30 Ethiopian Christians.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan on Sunday decried the killings and called for stability in Libya, which has been mired in political chaos and unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled former strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

"The United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal mass murder purportedly of Ethiopian Christians by ISIL-affiliated terrorists in Libya," she said, using another name for IS.

"This atrocity once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya to empower a unified Libyan rejection of terrorist groups."

The release of the video coincided with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s visit to Egypt on Sunday. Welby offered condolences to the Coptic Christians beheaded in February. The archbishop, who has backed military action against IS in Iraq, is planning on meeting religious figures and has spoken out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa.