Egypt Conducts Airstrikes on Islamic State Targets in Libya

CAIRO — The Egyptian
military said on Monday that
it had carried out airstrikes
in Libya in retaliation for the
beheading of more than a
dozen Egyptian Christians by
a branch of the Islamic State
extremist group there.
In a statement Monday
morning, the Egyptian
military said that it had
conducted airstrikes at dawn
against training camps and
arms depots of the Islamic
State group in Libya, but it
did not provide further
details. News reports and
social media indicated that
Egyptian warplanes had
struck Derna, a town in
eastern Libya that is a hub of
Islamist militancy. It is also
close to the Egyptian border,
well within the range of the
jets.
The airstrikes are a dramatic
escalation of Egypt’s role in
the continuing battle
between armed factions in
Libya for control of the
country. With the backing of
the United Arab Emirates,
Egypt has worked covertly to
support a Libyan general
who is fighting to take back
the capital and much of the
coast from a rival coalition of
militia groups, some of which
are made up of Islamist
extremists.
In a televised address late
Sunday night, President
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt
vowed that his country would
take action to avenge the
killings.
“Egypt preserves the right to
respond, with the
appropriate manner and
timing, in order to carry out
retribution on those killers
and criminals who are
stripped of the most basic of
human values,” Mr. Sisi said.
The Egyptian military said in
a statement issued around
8:30 a.m. that the dawn
strikes were “retribution and
response to the criminal acts
of terrorist elements and
organizations inside and
outside the country.”
“We stress that revenge for
the blood of Egyptians, and
retribution from the killers
and criminals, is a right we
must dutifully enforce,” the
statement said. Egyptian
state television showed
footage of F-16s taking off in
the dark as the statement was
read on the air.
The broadcast then showed a
video montage of jets,
soldiers, tanks and warships,
all set against a soaring
musical score. It was
narrated by a deep male
voice, familiar to those who
heard military
announcements when
generals seized power from
President Hosni Mubarak
four years ago.
“Honor, nation,” the narrator
says. “This is the slogan of
men who ask for death as a
sacrifice for the nation. They
are men who do not know the
meaning of impossible. They
penetrate rocks and
mountains, and they
challenge difficulties. They
race each other for
martyrdom, on land, sea and
air. Their life is a heroic epic,
and their martyrdom a
sacrifice for dignity and a
pride for Egypt.”
The leader of the Libyan air
forces for the anti-Islamist
faction, Saqer al-Joroushi,
appeared on Egyptian state
television and estimated that
the strikes had killed “not less
than 40 or 50” people.
Egypt’s air assault came less
than 12 hours after the main
Islamic State group released
a video online that appeared
to show fighters from the
group’s self-proclaimed
Tripolitania Province
beheading more than a dozen
Egyptian Christians.
The Christians were among
the thousands of Egyptians
who routinely travel across
the border to Libya to find
work in its oil-rich economy,
forging a deep connection
between the two neighboring
states. About 20 Egyptian
Christians disappeared
around the coastal city of
Surt weeks ago, and last
month the Tripolitania
Province released a picture
showing that it had captured
them.
The video of their beheadings
Sunday night aroused special
horror in Egypt and beyond
because it was filmed with
the theatrical brutality that
has become a trademark of
the Islamic State.
Released under the logo of
the Islamic State’s media arm
and with the title “A Message
Signed With Blood to the
Nation of the Cross,” the
video appeared to show a
row of masked fighters
dressed in black and with
ceremonial knives at their
chests parading more than a
dozen captives in orange
jumpsuits along a
Mediterranean beach in
western Libya.
Speaking in English, the lead
executioner proclaimed in
the video that the fighters
were part of the larger
Islamic State group fighting
in Syria, warned that they
would allow no safety to
“crusaders,” invoked the
American military’s burial at
sea of Osama bin Laden and
alluded to apocalyptic
prophecies about a coming
battle for Rome. The fighters
then forced their captives to
the ground, sawed through
their necks, and let the blood
darken the waves.
The video appeared to show a
greater degree of
communication and
collaboration between the
Islamic State and its Libyan
satellite group than Western
officials had previously
known.
Egypt’s airstrikes on Monday
threatened to draw it further
into the Libyan conflict.
Islamist fighters in Libya
could now seek to stage
attacks across the long,
lightly patrolled desert
border with Egypt, or to
increase their support for
allied Egyptian militants
already attempting to foment
an insurgency here.
The Egyptian military gave
no indication on Monday of
whether the airstrikes were a
one-time punishment for the
killing of its citizens or the
beginning of a more
prolonged military effort.
The leaders of Libya’s
internationally recognized
government welcomed the
Egyptian retaliation. That
government has relocated to
the Libyan cities of Tobruk
and Bayda, not far from the
Egyptian border, and has
allied itself with the general
fighting against the Islamist
factions.
At least three different
groups of militants inside
Libya have proclaimed
themselves so-called
provinces of the Islamic
State, mainly through online
messages and videos. Their
leaders and locations are
unknown.
Supporters of anti-Islamist
factions inside Libya have
increasingly used the Arabic
acronym for the Islamic State
to refer to all of their
opponents, whether
extremists, more moderate
groups, or less ideological
local and tribal militias who
are merely allied with the
Islamists.
The blurring of the terms for
the purpose of propaganda
against the Islamist-allied
forces now increases the
uncertainty about which
positions Egypt might have
sought to attack.
Mr. Sisi, a former general
who led the military ouster of
the Islamist president here
18 months ago, has made it
clear since then that he views
the chaos in Libya as a
danger to Egypt’s own
stability. Mr. Sisi’s
government has struggled to
suppress a festering Islamist
insurgency set off after the
military removed President
Mohamed Morsi of the
Muslim Brotherhood in June
2013, and Egyptian officials
say they believe that the
militants move across the
porous border with Libya to
obtain weapons and support.
Last summer, Egypt provided
bases for jets from the United
Arab Emirates to launch at
least two airstrikes targeting
Islamist-allied militias in the
Libyan capital, Tripoli, when
they were fighting for control
of the city.
That was before those
militias successfully took the
capital and Libya broke into
two rival coalitions, each with
its own prime minister and
government. The
internationally recognized
government has moved to the
east, and the Islamist-allied
factions have set up their
own provisional government
in Tripoli.
Although Egypt and the
United Arab Emirates have
not publicly acknowledged
the airstrikes last year,
officials of the internationally
recognized government have
said Egypt has continued to
play a crucial role in their
fight. In interviews last
month, they said that Egypt
had helped repair and supply
a small air force that has
been their greatest
advantage against the
Islamist forces.