Egypt launches air strikes on Libyan targets in response to attack on Coptic Christians
Egyptian air force planes on Friday carried out six strikes directed at camps near Derna in Libya where Cairo believes militants responsible for a deadly attack on Christians earlier in the day were trained, Egyptian military sources said.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he had directed strikes against what he called terrorist camps, declaring in a televised address that states that sponsored terrorism would be punished.
The sources said the strikes took place at around sundown, hours after masked gunmen attacked a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in central Egypt, killing 28 people and wounding 24, with many children among the victims, Health Ministry officials said.
“The terrorist incident that took place today will not pass unnoticed,” Sisi said. “We are currently targeting the camps where the terrorists are trained.”
He said Egypt would not hesitate to carry out further strikes against camps where people were trained to carry out operations against Egypt, whether those camps were inside or outside the country.
Coptic Christians, whose church dates back nearly 2,000 years, make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million.
They say they have long suffered from persecution, but in recent months the frequency of deadly attacks against them has increased. About 70 have been killed since December in bombings claimed by IS at churches in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta.
An Islamic State campaign of murders in North Sinai prompted hundreds of Christians to flee in February and March.
Copts fear they will face the same fate as brethren in Iraq and Syria, where Christian communities have been decimated by wars and Islamic State persecution.
Egypt’s Copts are vocal supporters of Sisi, who has vowed to crush Islamist extremism and protect Christians. He declared a three-month state of emergency in the aftermath of the church bombings in April.
But many Christians feel the state either does not take their plight seriously enough or cannot protect them against determined fanatics.
The government is fighting insurgents affiliated to Islamic State who have killed hundreds of police and soldiers in the Sinai peninsula, while also carrying out attacks elsewhere in the country.
Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said the state of emergency was failing to prevent attacks.
“The state is not addressing the root cause, which is the sectarian climate that encourages terrorism,” he said. “There are no serious steps being taken to use culture or education to address this.”
© 2017 Thomson Reuters