Egyptian air strikes bombed Islamic State targets in Libya at dawn Mon. Feb. 16, hours after a video was released showing the mass beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians. The targets were officially described as “Islamic State camps, training sites and weapons storage areas” across the border. debkafile: The video released in Libya came six days after an ISIS-affiliated Sinai group aired a video depicting the beheadings of 10 alleged collaborators with Israeli and Egyptian intelligence – altogether 31 savage murders of Egyptians have been perpetrated in less than a week.
President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi went on national television Sundaynight to warn that Cairo would “choose the necessary means and timing to avenge the criminal killings.”
He declared seven days of national mourning.
A major Islamist-Egyptian confrontation has thus spilled over into Libya from the multiple fronts already stretching from Sinai and the Suez Canal into the Egyptian heartland.
debkafile’s military sources report that late last month, the Egyptian military’s high command resolved to cut down on ground operations on its western border against ISIS infiltrators from Libya and focus on aerial operations. Large air force contingents were transferred to the Libyan border last week. Monday morning they took to the air for their first strike in pursuit of three objectives:
1. To obstruct the ISIS-linked group’s advance on the Libyan capital Tripoli, after the jihadis overran most of Sirte, the port town along the coast from the capital.
2. To break up the Islamist buildup concentrated in the eastern Libyan towns of Benghazi and Darnah.
3. To hit ISIS command centers in eastern Libya and its smuggling networks, which are currently regulating most of the arms traffic from Libya via Egypt into Sinai and thence to Iraq, Jordan and the Gaza Strip.
Our military sources expect Egypt to follow up on its air strikes with marine landings on the Libyan coast against the Islamic forces on the move there.
No one has fathomed until now how ISIS managed to surreptitiously transfer large numbers of fighters from Iraq to Libya. The officers smuggled into Sinai from Iraq most likely built a secret land bridge linking Iraq-Sinai, Egypt proper and Libya.
The 21 victims, Egyptian Coptic workers shown on the Libyan Islamists’ video, were seized in December and January from the coastal town of Sirte which has fallen under control of Islamic groups. The video was labeled “A message signed with blood to the nation.”
"We have seen the painful video and confirm the execution of Egyptians kidnapped in Libya," Coptic Church spokesman Bolis Halim told the official Middle East News Agency in Cairo. The footage released by IS online shows handcuffed hostages wearing orange jumpsuits being beheaded by their black-suited captors in a coastal area.
Sunni Islam’s top body, Al-Azhar, condemned the “barbaric” beheading of the Copts. “Al-Azhar received the news of the execution of a group of innocent Egyptians with great sorrow and grief,” Al-Azhar said in a statement. “Al-Azhar stresses that such barbaric action has nothing to do with any religion or human values.”