Islamist militants abducted 20 Egyptian Christians in Libya in recent days, a source close to the government said on Saturday, while militants who claimed to belong to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group killed 14 Libyan soldiers.
The Ansar al-Sharia militant group abducted 13 Egyptians on Saturday in the coastal city of Sirte, the source said, adding that seven others were also abducted last week. Their identity was not immediately clear, except that they were said to be Coptic Christians. Thousands of Egyptians work in Libya, mainly in the construction and craft sectors, and they have been repeatedly targeted ever since the country descended into chaos.
With the rise of armed militias enforcing their own law in the absence of central control, thousands, mostly civilians, have been killed in Libya.
In February, the bodies of seven Egyptian Christians who had been shot were found near the second city of Benghazi.
Last week, an Egyptian Coptic couple were found dead in their home in Sirte.
Sirte, 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Tripoli, is in the hands of Islamist militias, including Ansar al-Sharia, which the UN last month added to its terror list over links to al-Qaeda and for running ISIS training camps.
Four years after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi’s one-man rule in 2011, Libya continues to struggle with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.
Western military intervention in Libya in 2011 brought with it an influx of weapons, with Gulf Arab states also supplying arms to rebels, many of whom now refuse to hand them over to the internationally recognized government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani.
Last August, Thani and his cabinet were forced to leave Tripoli for the east when militants from Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) seized the capital. The new rulers of Tripoli have set up their own administration, the General National Congress (GNC), which has not been recognized by the United Nations and world powers.
Meanwhile, also on Saturday, militants who pledged allegiance to ISIS, an extremist group which has declared an ‘Islamic State’ in large swathes of land it captured in Iraq and Syria, killed 14 soldiers in south Libya.
“Members of IS [ISIS] staged an attack… during which they executed 14 members of the Libyan army belonging to the infantry battalion 168,” the government said in a statement, asking the international community to lift an arms embargo to help fight what it called terrorists.
A website called ‘The Islamic State in Libya’ claimed responsibility for killing 12 soldiers at the same location and posted a picture purporting to show the execution of one soldier.
Since last August, there have been attempts by ISIS to open a branch in Libya at Derna, an eastern hot spot for extremist Islamists.
Western powers, who backed the military uprising against Gaddafi in Libya, fear that extremist Islamists, who they armed and trained during the uprising, are seeking to exploit a power vacuum in the oil-producing nation.
The commander of US forces in Africa claimed last month that the US military was allegedly monitoring a nascent effort by ISIS to train a couple of hundred fighters in eastern Libya.
UN talks start Monday
UN-brokered talks aimed at ending months of violence and political deadlock in the North African nation are scheduled to begin on Monday, a UN diplomat said.
The diplomat said the initiative calls for a ceasefire as well as a withdrawal of all militias and the disarmament of the warring sides.
Libya’s internationally recognized parliament has voted not to attend the negotiations if the rival legislature in Tripoli is to take part in the talks.
Last month, leaders in the sub-Saharan Sahel region of Africa meeting in Mauritania called on the United Nations to organize an international force “to neutralize the armed groups” in Libya.
Libya’s violence has drawn strong condemnation from both the UN and European Union, and rights group Amnesty International has accused several factions of war crimes.
According to Amnesty, militants in the west showed “an utter disregard” for civilian casualties and accused them of indiscriminately lobbing artillery fire into crowded civilian neighborhoods, damaging homes and hospitals.