An affiliate of ISIS based in Libya has claimed to have abducted of 21 Coptic Christians, as Egypt confirmed that 20 of its citizens were being held in the country.
“Urgent. Soldiers of the Islamic State captured 21 Christian crusaders,” the militants said in a statement posted on an Islamist internet forum.
Three pictures showing several identified men were posted alongside the statement. According to Al-Arabiya News, these men are Egyptian workers who were abducted recently in the Libyan city of Sirte.
Abu Makar, an Egyptian priest from the workers’ hometown of Samalout, in southern Egypt, has reportedly confirmed that the pictures on the website are of these men. Al-Arabiya News also say that a Coptic activist, Magdi Malak, has met with families of the captives and confirmed the authenticity of the pictures.
According to AFP, a spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry has confirmed that 20 Egyptians were abducted in two separate incidents in neighbouring Libya, although he did not say when the kidnappings took place. Seven Egyptians and 13 others were taken and are still being held, he said.
A source close to the Libyan government said on January 3 that Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia kidnapped the 20 men in the city of Sirte over several days.
However, two days days later there were unconfirmed reports that 13 of the men had been released but had been detained by people smugglers.
The ISIS statement said that the men had been taken “in various areas of Tripoli Province”, a region that includes Sirte.