At least 35 Egyptian nationals were reportedly kidnapped in Libya, amid Egyptian calls Tuesday for UN-backed international intervention in Libya after launching air strikes on Islamic State group targets following the jihadists’ beheadings of Egyptian Christians.
The abduction of the Egyptians, many of which are apparently farm workers, was carried out at various locations in areas controlled by Libyan militia group Ansar Al-Shariah and IS, in an apparent reaction to the Egyptian air strikes on militant bases in Derna, the Libya Herald reported Monday.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said “there is no choice” but to create a global coalition to confront the extremists in Libya, in an interview aired by France’s Europe 1 radio.
Egypt’s foreign minister was in New York seeking backing from UN Security Council members for military intervention and to demand “full support” against the jihadists, a ministry spokesman said.
The diplomatic push comes a day after Egyptian F-16s bombed militant bases in Derna and on the February 17 anniversary of the beginning of the 2011 NATO-backed revolt that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The raids were ordered hours after IS in Libya released a gruesome video showing the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians who had traveled there seeking work.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein Tuesday called the murders a “vile crime targeting people on the basis of their religion”.
He denounced “the ghastly attempt to justify and glorify it in a video”.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians remain in Libya, and their government is encouraging them to leave, foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told reporters.
Libya has been gripped by turmoil since the revolt and Cairo officials have long said the NATO intervention to help the anti-Gaddafi rebels left Egypt to contend with chaos on its western border.
Libya mission ‘not finished’
“The mission was not finished,” Abdelatty said.
France, which agreed Monday to sell Egypt advanced Rafale warplanes, has called with Cairo on the UN to adopt measures to confront the jihadists in Libya.
Italy, the former colonial power there and located just across the Mediterranean, ruled out intervention without UN backing and suggested a political solution remained the best option.
“What is happening is very complicated. We are following events closely and with concern but there is no need to jump from total indifference to hysteria and an unreasonable reaction,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told TG5 television.
The European Union said it will discuss with the Egyptian and US governments this week joint action on Libya, but that it saw no role in any military intervention for now.
Chaos in Libya has seen rival governments and powerful militias battling for key cities and the country’s oil riches, providing fertile ground for IS.
Several Libyan jihadist groups have pledged allegiance to IS, which last year seized large parts of Syria and Iraq, declaring an Islamic caliphate and committing widespread atrocities.
Earlier this month, delegates from Libya’s rival parliaments held UN-mediated indirect talks described by the UN as “positive”.
But Egypt says it would be naive to hope for a speedy political settlement, insisting that militants must be confronted with force.
“There are terrorist organisations in Libya that are not abiding by their commitments; they are not serious about dialogue,” said Abdelatty.
Monday’s strikes were the first time Egypt announced military action against jihadist targets in Libya. Last year it reportedly allowed the United Arab Emirates to use its bases to bomb militants there.
Experts say Sissi wants to be seen as a key ally of the West against Islamist extremism, deflecting international criticism of his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood of former president Mohammed Morsi, whom he ousted in 2013.
As well as Libya to the west, Egypt is dealing with an insurgency in its own east, in the Sinai Peninsula, where jihadists have also joined IS and killed scores of troops.
Abdelatty said it was time for the international effort against IS — which has been hammered by US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria — to focus on its presence elsewhere.
“Just as there is movement against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, we want the world to turn its attention to Libya,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for group.