Libya (MNN) — The Islamic State terror group in Libya taunted Egypt over the weekend by releasing a brutal video of the execution of 21 Coptic Christians.
Egypt responded with airstrikes.
This story tells us two things, says Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry. First, “It means that Egypt understands that 21 of their citizens have been executed and they feel the need to protect their territory and their citizens.” Second, it means ISIS is growing. “I like to describe it like a cancer. It’s metastasizing and taking on different forms but with very similar philosophy in these different regions around the world.”
No one was all that surprised when the Islamic State occupied part of Iraq and Syria. When cells were found in Pakistan, Libya, and elsewhere, suddenly the threat caused concern. “You have groups in Africa like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram: they are learning from ISIS. They’re taking their tactics and their money and associating with them, but they’re not taking their name.”
In Libya, many subscribe to an ideology that aligns with that of the Islamic State. It’s no surprise, then, that they went after Egyptian Christians who were looking for steady work in Libya. “They’re saying Christians are infidels. They want to kill all Christians and push all the Christians out of these areas, so they’re making Christians the target.” But it’s more than just going after a vulnerable group of people, Curry says. “We still are trying to get people to understand that Christians are the primary target here. They’ve always been the first target. The pattern has been to attack Christians, to kidnap Christians–now, obviously, executing Christians. When they are able to push out all of the people who disagree with them, they’ll take over the region.”
Egypt is no stranger to strained relationships with Coptic Christians. According to the Open Doors World Watch List, Egypt is ranked 23rd on the list of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the most severe.
According to them, Muslim-Background Believers face severe limitations within their homes and extended families. Family members might punish converts to Christianity for abandoning the Islamic faith. Historical Christian communities are targeted, too. However, within the last four years, “Egypt has learned some lessons from extremism, and they battled back against the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a very similar ideology to ISIS.” Curry says with the secular government in place, “They’re strongly determined not to go back to extremism. They’re going to take a strong stand against ISIS, and I think that it’s a positive thing.”
What else does it mean for Christians in the region? Sadly, it might mean very few changes in the days ahead. “Open Doors helps with trauma counseling in many areas where Christians are executed and persecuted, so we can tell you that this is not going to go away as soon as the headline fades,” says Curry. He adds, “The pain is deep.”
Separated by land and sea, it’s easy to forget the people behind the headlines. Curry urges the body of Christ not only to pray that radical Islamic groups would halt their campaign of creating chaos and destruction, but also, “Pray for these families, that they would stand strong in the face of the storm. Pray for the Coptic Church around the world. They just love Jesus. These are great people.”