Egypt launches air strikes in Libya after attack on Christians

At least 29 people were killed when gunmen in military fatigues opened fire on a bus carrying members of the Coptic Christian minority in the Egyptian province of Minya province last Friday.
At least 29 people were killed when gunmen in military fatigues opened fire on a bus carrying members of the Coptic Christian minority in the Egyptian province of Minya province last Friday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Several militant training camps linked to Friday assault were destroyed: Military

MINYA (Egypt) • Egyptian air raids over Libya have destroyed several camps that trained the militants who killed dozens of Christians in southern Egypt last Friday, the Egyptian military said yesterday.

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack that left 29 Coptic Christians dead and wounded 24 in the Egyptian province of Minya.

It was the latest assault directed at Egypt's increasingly embattled Christian minority, following two church bombings last month that killed more than 45, also claimed by the group.

"A security unit from the soldiers of the caliphate set up a checkpoint to ambush tens of Christians headed for the Saint Samuel monastery west of the city of Minya," a statement from the terror group said.

The statement from the Egyptian military spokesman did not say exactly where the strikes were conducted, but state television said last Friday that operations were focused on the eastern Libyan city of Derna.

"The air force has conducted several intensive day and night-time strikes. They targeted several gatherings of terrorist elements within Libyan territory after coordinating and fully verifying all information," it said.

"The strikes led to the destruction of the planned targets, which included concentrated areas for the training of terrorist elements that participated in the planning and implementation of the Minya attack."

A video uploaded to the military's Facebook page depicted fighter jets being loaded with missiles and taking off, as well as aerial footage of air strikes.The official Mena news agency said last Friday that the target was a group called the Shura Council of Mujahideen, or Majlis al-Shura militant group.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who announced the reprisal in a televised address, did not give details about the location or targets.

But he signalled that Libya, which has collapsed into chaos after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, poses a threat, and said Egypt's military was ready to strike outside the country's borders if necessary.

Mr Sisi said that in the past three months, Egyptian security forces have destroyed 300 vehicles attempting to cross the border.

Addressing US President Donald Trump, Mr Sisi said: "You have said that your priority is to confront terrorism, and I trust you are capable of doing that."

In a statement released in Washington last Friday, Mr Trump said: "The bloodletting of Christians must end, and all who aid their killers must be punished. Terrorists are engaged in a war against civilisation, and it is up to all who value life to confront and defeat this evil."

The East Libyan air force's media office said the strikes targeted forces linked to Al-Qaeda at a number of sites, and would be followed by a ground operation.

Derna is one of the cities where East Libyan forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, a close ally of Egypt, have been trying to gain control from Islamists and other opponents.

The attacks on Libya hinted that the gunmen responsible for the latest violence could have come through Egypt's western desert - a new flank in a war that has, until now, centred on Sinai in the east of the country.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have, respectively, sent condolence letters to Mr Sisi and Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there were no reports of Singaporeans directly affected or injured in the Egypt incident.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Egypt launches air strikes in Libya after attack on Christians'. Print Edition | Subscribe