17 Coptic Christians go missing in Libya, fears rise over possible abduction by terrorists

Reuters/Mohamad Torokman
Reuters/Mohamad Torokman

At least 17 Egyptian Coptic Christians have gone missing in Libya, and it's feared an armed group might have abducted them in the north African country where 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded by ISIS in 2015.

The Coptic Christians, who were living in an Egyptian neighborhood in Tripoli, have either been detained by the authorities or taken by an armed group due to their Christian faith, friends and family believe, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, which says that they have been missing since Sept. 30.

The Copts had work visas for labor work in Libya, “but they failed to get work opportunities and the costs of renewing the visas are high and it’s likely that “the police of Libya detained them from September 30 until now,” a lawyer and friend of one the missing Copts was quoted as saying.

“The Copts were staying in the Gargash District in Tripoli,” he added. “In this residency, they were surrounded by so many persons of other countries like India and Bangladesh. So the action of detaining 17 Copts only is such a mysterious action! We are fearing of repeating an incident like the one who did by ISIS. We are contacting the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to intervene in the situation.”

Numerous Coptic Christians cross over to Libya in search of work despite knowing that they will face severe persecution, including death.

The Sunday Times quoted a Coptic Christian as previously saying: “We know it is more likely we will die than live in Libya but we don't have a choice. … More and more people are going to Libya because of the economic crisis here. You can't get work, you can't make money in Egypt. We are aware of the dangers, particularly as Christians.”

In 2017, Libya’s interior ministry said they had found a mass grave with the bodies of 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State two years earlier.

“The heads are separated from the bodies clad in orange jumpsuits, hands bound behind the back with plastic wire,” said the ministry’s unit for fighting organized crime in the city of Misurata at the time, according to Agence France Presse.

The authorities came to know about the mass grave near the one-time Islamic State bastion of Sirte, 280 miles east of Tripoli, after an ISIS prisoner confessed to the group's killings.

ISIS had kidnapped the Copts in separate incidents in Libya throughout December 2014 and January 2015. The terrorist group then released the video of their execution on Feb. 15, 2015, showing the Christian men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on the sand as the terrorists stood behind them, ready to carry out the executions at a beach near Tripoli.

ICC earlier reported that the victims' family members took pride in how their loved ones stood up to the Islamic radicals and refused to deny their faith despite the imminent threat of death.

One wife said that her husband “kept the faith, and was martyred in the name of Christ. His faith was very strong. I'm proud of him. He has lifted our heads up and honored us and all the Christians.”

Another family member said: “I’m very happy that my brother is in Heaven with Jesus now. I loved my brother when he was alive on the Earth, but now I love him more than before. He was martyred in the name of Jesus Christ.”

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