Egypt attacks ISIS in Libya to avenge beheadings
CAIRO launched air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Libya yesterday after the extremists posted a video showing the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Christians.
Egypt said a "tough intervention" was needed and with France called on the United Nations Security Council to "take new measures" against the militants in neighbouring Libya.
With yesterday's air strikes, Egypt opened a new front while already battling ISIS militants in its Sinai Peninsula who have killed scores of troops since the army toppled Islamic president Mohamed Mursi in July 2013.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the former army chief who toppled Mr Mursi and has been criticised for a deadly crackdown on dissent, has presented Egypt as a key partner in international efforts against the extremists.
Yesterday's early morning air strikes hit ISIS camps and stores of weapons, the military said, hours after extremists released gruesome footage of the beheadings that provoked outrage in Egypt.
Witnesses told AFP there were at least seven air strikes in Derna in the east, a hotbed of militancy since Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011. It was not immediately clear whether other areas were also hit.
It was the first time Egypt announced military action against targets in its western neighbour, having previously denied it targeted militants there.
But United States officials had said Egypt previously allowed the United Arab Emirates to use its bases to bomb militants in Libya.
State television showed footage of Egyptian fighter jets it said were taking off to conduct the strikes.
"Avenging Egyptian blood and retaliating against criminals and killers is a duty we must carry out," the military said.
The air strikes came hours after Mr Sisi threatened a "suitable response" to the killings of the Coptic Christians.
The brutal deaths of the Christians - who, like thousands of poor Egyptians, had travelled abroad to seek work - shocked their compatriots.
"Revenge is on the way", read the banner on the front page of the official Al-Akhbar newspaper. Both the Coptic Church and the prestigious Islamic Al-Azhar institution condemned the attack.
Egyptian television repeatedly played the video without the beheadings, showing black-clad militants leading their captives in orange jumpsuits along a beach before forcing them to kneel down.
Analysts said attacking the militants underscores Mr Sisi's message that Egypt is a bulwark against a shared terrorist enemy with Western countries that have been critical of his human-rights record.
"These strikes elevate Egypt to a new level in confronting extremist organisations," said Mathieu Guidere, an Islamic studies and politics professor at the University of Toulouse.
Pope Francis expressed "profound sadness" over the beheading of the Coptic Christians in Libya, saying they had been killed for their faith.
"They were executed for nothing more than the fact that they were Christians," he said.