CAIRO (REUTERS) - ISIS released a video on Sunday purporting to show the militant group beheading 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya.
In the video, militants in black marched the captives, dressed in orange jump suits, to a beach. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded. The video appeared on the Twitter feed of a website that supports ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).
A caption on the five-minute video read: "The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church."
Thousands of Egyptians have travelled to neighbouring Libya in search of jobs since an uprising at home in 2011, despite advice from their government not to go to one of the most dangerous countries in the region.
Before the killings, one of the militants stood with a knife in his hand and said: "Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for."
Egypt’s state news agency MENA quoted the spokesman for the Coptic Church as confirming that 21 Egyptian Christians believed to be held by ISIS were dead.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called a seven-day mourning period and an urgent meeting of Egypt’s top military commanders, state television reported.
The Coptic Church said it was confident the Cairo government would seek justice.
Al Azhar, the centre of Islamic learning in Egypt, said no religion would accept such “barbaric” acts.
The families of the kidnapped workers had urged Cairo to help secure their release. In the southerly Minya Governorate, relatives screamed and fainted upon hearing news of the deaths.
Sisi has repeatedly expressed concerns about militants based in Libya who are seeking to topple his government. Those militants have made contact with Sinai Province, a group operating from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that has changed its name from Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis and pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
The group has killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police since the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
With Libya caught in a chaotic power struggle between two rival factions operating their own governments, Western officials fear Islamist militants are taking advantage of the turmoil to strengthen their presence.
A number of Islamist militant groups have been active since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 left Libya without a strong central government. A few have declared ties to the radical ISIS and claimed high-profile attacks over recent weeks in what appears to be an intensifying campaign.
Last month, ISIS claimed responsibility when at least two gunmen stormed into the five-star Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, killing nine people, including an American security contractor and a Frenchman. Fears that the crisis in neighbouring Libya could spill across the border have prompted Egypt to upgrade its military hardware.
French President Francois Hollande has said Egypt will order 24 Rafale fighter jets, a naval frigate and related military equipment in a deal to be signed in Cairo on Monday.