For Immediate Release
(Washington, DC) February 15, 2018

Three years ago, on this day, February 15, 2015 ISIS released a video titled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” confirming the gruesome beheading of 20 Coptic Christians and 1 Ghanaian on a beach near Tripoli, Libya. Today, Coptic Solidarity honors the memory of these 21 brave martyrs who made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith, leaving an example for us all who follow.

Screenshot of the February 15, 2015, ISIS video showing martyrdom of the 21 on beach in Libya

The victims were kidnapped by ISIS in two separate incidents between December 2014 and January 2015. They were paraded down a beach in orange jumpsuits, forced to kneel with an ISIS executioner standing behind each captive, and then gruesomely beheaded.

Christians worldwide celebrate their steadfastness in dying for their faith, visibly praying until the last moment. The faith of these 20 Copts who refused to deny their Lord, was reportedly so compelling, the Ghanaian who was not a Christian said, “Their God is my God,” accepting his impending martyrdom.

Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, added the names of the 21 martyrs into the Coptic Synaxarium, making them officially recognized martyrs of the Coptic Orthodox Church, to be remembered each February 15.

Banner created in commemoration of the 21 martyrs

The twenty Coptic men went to Libya seeking work as daily laborers to support their families due to the poor economic situation in Egypt. Thirteen of the twenty men came from a single village, al-Our in Minya.

The Egyptian government responded swiftly to the release of the video with airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in Libya. The government also promised a compensation of 100,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. $13,000) to each family of the martyrs and instructed that they should receive free health care and education.

Additionally, the Egyptian government promised to fund the building of a Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Country of al-Our. The village donated the land in al-Our for the church. However, callous Muslim fanatics firebombed the church during construction, on the day a mass was held to commemorate the 40th day of the martyrs’ repose. They also attacked a car, and the family home of one of the martyrs. Rather than punish the perpetrators, in a typical manner the Egyptian government yielded to fanatic Islamists and held a reconciliation session during which it was decided that the church could only be built on the outskirts, but not within al-Our village.

Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Country of al-Our

The Church of the Martyrs was to be inaugurated today and include burial of the bodies of the martyrs which were found by the Libyan government in October 2017, after the capture of the ISIS fighter responsible for videoing the executions. Instead, a commemoration mass was hosted today, while the martyrs’ families continue to await the return of their loves ones. The large tomb built to house all 21 martyrs remains empty.

The martyrdom of these men and ensuing events highlight the precarious situation of Copts in Egypt today. Over 100 Copts were murdered in Egypt last year only. While brutal large-scale terrorist attacks receive most media attention, it is the under-reported continuous stream of discrimination and persecution of Copts that is most pernicious and has relegated them to a second-class status in their own country.

Fanatic Islamists demonstrated a callous disregard towards the martyrs’ families who not only lost their loved ones but were re-victimized by denying their right to construct a church in their home village where they rightly belong. The Egyptian government has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of political will to accord its Coptic minority their rights, even in the aftermath of the large sacrifice of the sons of al-Our.

Icon created by Tony Rezk in commemoration of the 21 martyrs

The immense obstacles in obtaining church construction permits have remained unchanged even after the much touted new Church construction law as recently reported by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Furthermore, church construction or even reopening already existing churches continues to be a flash point for violence throughout Egypt by fanatic Islamists to whose will the Egyptian government consistently yields, at the cost of Copts’ rights. Coptic Solidarity regularly reports on the systematic discrimination against the Copts, including the recently published article titled 44 Questions addressed to the Egyptian Parliament, which enumerates the many forms in which this discrimination manifests. Coptic Solidarity also hosts the annual Modern Coptic Martyrs Day to commemorate Copts who were martyred for their faith.

Coptic Solidarity president, Dr. George Gurguis stated,

Let us not squander the sacrifice of these martyrs but allow their example to strengthen our resolve to continue to seek religious freedom and equality for all Egypt’s Copts.

Coptic Solidarity is an organization seeking to help minorities, particularly the Copts, of Egypt and we support those in Egypt working for upholding values of freedom, equality, and the protection of the fundamental rights of all Egyptian citizens. It advocates in cooperation with the affiliated organizations in Canada and in Europe (Solidarité Copt). For more information, contact Lindsay Griffin at 801-512-1713 or coptadvocacy@copticsolidarity.org