By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TRIPOLI/CAIRO (BosNewsLife)– All 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded by Islamic State militants in Libya were killed after they refused to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ, BosNewsLife established Tuesday, February 17.
Some were seen saying their last prayers. As the blade came to their neck they all cried in unison “Ya Rabbi Yasou’” or ‘O My Lord Jesus’, according to a video and Christian experts familiar with the situation.
The caption by Islamic State noted that “these insisted to remain in unbelief” and embrace Islam.
“In other words, they were given the option to convert or die and everyone of them refused, even unto death,” said terrorism expert and author Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian American and self-declared former terrorist who converted to Christianity from Islam.
They said ‘Oh My Lord Jesus’ “on their pure lips while the saints cried in heaven Hallelujah,” Shoebat added, “to accept being martyred under the blade of the Muslim scimitar.”
Malak Shoukry’s brother, Yousef, is among the dead. He recognized him in the video. “I heard him calling, ‘Oh Jesus,’ as he was beheaded,”he told National Public Radio (NPR). “I’m happy and I’m proud of him. He is a martyr for Christ.”
The killing of the Coptic Christians from Egypt hit hardest in a small, poor town. Residents say 13 of the men were from El-Aour, a hamlet on the Nile River some 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Cairo, the Egyptian capital.
Abraham Bashr Aziz made it home safely from Libya after witnessing the kidnapping last month. The 19-year-old carpenter was sharing a house with the other victims, but was in a separate room hiding from the gunmen.
“I heard it and I saw that from the window,” Aziz said. “I heard them screaming, and I heard them asking about the Christians. They just came to kidnap the Christians. I was so afraid.”
He and eight others hid from the militants and eventually made it out of Libya safely. Yet, they are now mourning those they lost. Pope Francis said he shares in their grief, calling those who died martyrs that “belong to all Christians.”
“The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard,” the Pope said. “Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!’”
Pope Francis spoke in his native Spanish this week, one day after the release of a video from the Islamic State showing the grisly beheadings of the Christians. “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants”, the pontiff stressed. “They are Christians. Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”
They were killed “only because they confessed Christ,” the Pope added. “I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.”
Among those who died was a man from Chad, who converted to Christianity “because of the faith” he witnessed in the detained Coptic Christians, said priest Rafic Grieche, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt. “He found his faith when he saw the face of the other Egyptian Christians, he didn’t want to leave,” Grieche told Vatican Radio. “He wanted to be a martyr like them,” he told Vatican Radio.
The men went to Libya as construction workers to support their families. “Two of these men did not even see their babies who were delivered during their kidnapping,” added Greiche. The killings occurred some six weeks after they were kidnapped in the Libyan coastal city of Surt, also known as Sirte. Many Egyptians, including Copts, travel to Libya seeking employment opportunities.
This is not the first time Egyptian Christians have been targeted in Libya. Last month, an Egyptian Christian teen and her parents were found dead in Sirte. Libyan authorities also discovered the bodies of seven Egyptian Christians last February near militant-held parts of Benghazi, Christians said.
Pope Francis called Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, late Monday, February 16, to show what the Vatican said was his deep participation in the sufferings of the Coptic Church following the executions.
He reportedly assured him of his prayers, adding that he would unite himself spiritually “to the prayers and sufferings of the Coptic Church” a morning Eucharistic celebration.
On Monday, Egypt’s military launched air strikes against Libya in retaliation for the deaths of the Egyptian Christians.
Shoebat believed the crackdown on Christians underscores Biblical prophecies. “We all know that Zechariah 14 is about rescuing the Jews and converting them to Him,” he said referring to a Bible book and verse. “But Isaiah 19:20 should shock some folks and get us to ask, who and why is Christ coming for in Egypt [which says]: “And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of Hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them.”
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