Militants associated with the Islamic State terrorist group are claiming responsibility for the abduction of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, according to a statement received by the SITE Intelligence Group.
"Urgent. Soldiers of the Islamic State captured 21 Christian crusaders," the statement reads, which included three pictures showing only 20 captured Coptic Christians.
The statement did not specify when the captives were abducted but a spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry, Badr Abdel Atti, confirmed to AFP that at least 20 Egyptians were abducted in two separate incidents in Libya and they "are still being detained" by their captors.
Thirteen of the captives were said to have been taken earlier this month when gunmen charged a residency for expatriates in Sirte, Christian activist Magdy Malik said.
"We are witnessing a pattern of persecution against Christians in Egypt; I fear for the lives of the hostages," Malik said.
Hanna Aziz, who claims to be a witness, told The Associated Press the gunmen went room by room in the residence and separated Muslims from Christians and abducted the Christians.
"They were 15 armed and masked men who came in four vehicles. They had a list of full names of Christians in the building," Aziz said. "While checking IDs, Muslims were left aside while Christians were grabbed. I heard my friends screaming, but they were quickly shushed at gunpoint. After that, we heard nothing. I am still in my room waiting for them to take me. I want to die with them."
As Persecution.org points out, the ISIS claim of responsiblity comes after conflicting reports clowded who was responsible for the Christians' abductions.
A source close to the Libyan government said that the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, which was added to the United Nations' terror list in November and is said to run ISIS training camps, had kidnapped 20 men in Sirte. The report added that a tribal source said 13 men had been released but that claim was never verified.
The Islamic State statement indicated that the captives had been taken "in various areas in the Tripoli Province," which includes Sirte. The militants' statement did not include demands or a condition for the release of the captives.
The Telegraph reports that a farmer from Minya in Upper Egypt named Bisheer Estefanos identified at least two of the captives pictured as being his own brothers, Bishoy and Samuel.
"All we can do is pray for God for help," Estefanos said. "Thier mother is tired of crying."
Mina Thabet, a researcher with the Cairo-based Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, said other family members in Egypt have also recognized their loved ones.
"I cannot begin to tell you how devastated they were as they recognized their sons," Thabet told The Telegraph. "They have no idea where they are or what their fate will be."
With thousands of Egyptians working in Libya, the concern for the safety of Coptic Christians has increased with the abductions. However, Atti said that Egypt will not send a diplomatic mission to Libya because "many of the regions are out of state control."
Egypt closed down its mission in Tripoli last year when its ambassador was abducted by militants.