Last of 21 Christians martyred by ISIS in Libya finally laid to rest after 5 years

Ghanaian Christian Matthew Ayariga (middle) is shown in an Islamic State execution video in which he and 20 Coptic Christians from Egypt were beheaded on a beach in Sirte, Libya in February 2015. | Screenshot: TKList

The remains of a Ghanaian Christian beheaded by the Islamic State terrorist group on a Libyan beach in an execution video in 2015 has finally been laid to rest in Egypt.

Cairo-based journalist Farid Y. Farid reported on Sept. 29 that the body of Matthew Ayariga was finally laid to rest alongside the 20 Coptic Christians who were beheaded beside him on a beach in Sirte, Libya, in a video released by the jihadi death cult in February 2015. 

“His remains finally arrived today to #Egypt to be laid to rest, w/his Coptic brothers, after 5+yrs of his body not being claimed,” Farid, who has had articles published in The New York Times and other outlets, tweeted

Farid provided a link to an article by Watani Newspaper, an Egyptian weekly newspaper widely read by Coptic Christians. The article reports that the families of the Coptic Christians celebrated the remains of the martyr. 

“We collapsed with great joy because the martyr Matthew is dear to us, and he is one of our children because he was martyred with our children and adhered to his Christ,” a mother of two of the martyred Coptic Christians told Watani News. “We thank our master because He succeeded in returning the remains of the martyr so that he would be next to his [brothers] in the church.”

The 21 men were abducted while they were living in Sirte as migrants working there to support their families back home. 

Before the execution, the men were filmed kneeling in front of 21 knife-wielding black-masked jihadis on the shore of a beach in Sirte, Libya. Several of the men were seen praying silently.

Their execution video, along with the video executions of other high-profile victims in Iraq and Syria, put the world on notice about how brutally the terrorist group was torturing those it captured. 

The video came at the height of the Islamic State’s reign of terror in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Afghanistan. 

News of the return of Ayariga’s remains was celebrated by Barnabas Aid, a United Kingdom-based Christian aid agency serving persecuted Christian communities across the world. 

In a statement, Barnabas Aid noted that in the 2015 execution video, Ayariga was asked by a terrorist: “Do you reject Christ?” The militant also demanded that he follow Islam. Referring to his brothers in Christ next to him on the beach, Ayariga answered: “Their God is my God.” He was then beheaded.

“The bodies of the 20 Egyptian martyrs were flown to their homeland in May 2018, however, Matthew’s body was unclaimed,” the Barnabas Aid statement explained. “In September 2020, authorities in Libya released Matthew’s remains to Egyptian Christians to be laid to rest alongside the other martyrs.”

The 21 martyrs have been canonized as martyr saints by the Coptic Church and their deaths have not been forgotten by the church’s faithful. 

The Minya village of El-Aour, where 13 of the 21 martyrs were from, has become a destination town now for Coptic Christians across the region even though it is a primitive village. 

The village is now home to The Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in El-Aour, the final resting spot for the 21 martyrs. The construction of the church was ordered by Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

In February, a new museum was opened in El-Aour honoring those Christians killed by the Islamic State in Sirte. The museum will feature exhibits on the victim’s lives and go into detail as to how they were abducted and executed. 

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