Coptic Patriarch Calls 21 Beheaded Christians 'Martyrs for the Faith;' Pope Francis Says 'Their Blood Confesses Christ'

Relatives of 27 Egyptian Coptic Christian workers who were kidnapped in the Libyan city of Sirte, take part in a protest to call for their release, in Cairo, February 13, 2015. Egyptian Copts have been targeted in Libya before during the chaos that broke out when militias that fought together to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi then trained their arms on one another. | (Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

The Coptic patriarch of Alexandria has responded to news that terror group ISIS has beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians by calling them "martyrs for the faith." Pope Francis added that believers everywhere must rally behind the victims, saying that denominations don't matter and all Christian blood is the same.

Fides News Agency reported on Monday that Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, the patriarch of Alexandria of Coptic Catholics, offered "his condolence to all the families of these martyrs who gave their lives for the faith, and at the same time expresses his gratitude to President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and all the institutions of the Egyptian government for giving an immediate response to this act of terrorism."

Sidrak refers to the air strikes Egypt carried out against ISIS targets in Libya only hours after the video showing the massacre was released. The video is titled "A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross."

Al-Sisi's government reportedly hit camps, training sites and weapon storage areas in Libya held by the jihadists.

Pope Francis also spoke out against the killings, and said that the believers were murdered simply because they were Christians.

"The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ," Francis said.

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State are marched by armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. Islamic State released the video on Sunday purporting to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya. In the video, militants in black marched the captives to a beach that the group said was near Tripoli. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded. Egypt's state news agency MENA quoted the spokesman for the Coptic Church as confirming that 21 Egyptian Christians believed to be held by Islamic State were dead. | (Photo: Reuters/Social media via Reuters TV)

"As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians."

The victims are believed to be the 21 Coptic Christians kidnapped in raids by masked gunmen from a housing complex in Sirte, Libya, in December and January.

Persecution watchdog groups such as the International Christian Concern have said that the militants who carried out the beheadings need to be brought to justice.

"These Islamic extremists continue to claim their inspiration for their actions from their religious beliefs and have once again committed horrific violence in establishing their religious beliefs. We strongly urge the Egyptian government to act swiftly to provide protection for its citizens who remain in Libya and face continued threats if they attempt to flee the country," said Todd Daniels, ICC regional manager for the Middle East.

Beside the air strikes, al-Sisi declared seven days of national mourning for the murdered Christians.

"Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals," the Egyptian president said.

The Christian community in Egypt has rallied behind the murdered Coptics. Fr. Hani Bakhoum Kiroulos, the Coptic Catholic patriarchate secretary, said that both Muslims and and Christians are uniting against terrorism.

"If their aim was to divide us, they have failed," Kiroulos said about the actions of ISIS.

"Immediate harsh condemnation came from Cairo's Al Azhar University. And the swift retaliation on the part of the Egyptian air force on Islamic State bases in Libya also demonstrated that for the Egyptian government its citizens are all equal and that Egypt is suffering as a nation from the bloodthirsty delirium of the terrorists."

Neighbours and friends of the relatives of Egyptian Coptic men killed in Libya sit at the courtyard of a church before a mass in El-Our village, in Minya governorate, south of Cairo, February 16, 2015. Egyptian jets bombed Islamic State targets in Libya on Monday, a day after the group there released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, drawing Cairo directly into the conflict across its border. | (Photo: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)

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