Egyptian warplanes carried out airstrikes early Monday against the Islamic State group in neighboring Libya, the military said, in retaliation for the militants beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were kidnapped in Libya.
The airstrikes targeting militant training camps and weapons storage sites came hours after the Islamic State group released a video purporting to show the killings.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi had pledged in a televised speech to respond to the beheadings, calling them an «abhorrent act of terrorism.»
«Egypt reserves the right of retaliation, and with the methods and timing it sees fit for retribution from those murderers and criminals who are without the slightest humanity,» he said.
The video shows several men in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The men are made to kneel and one militant addresses the camera in English before the men are simultaneously beheaded.
The brutal murders were portrayed as retaliation against what a masked fighter described as “the hostile Egyptian church.” Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the Egyptian population and suffer widespread discrimination and persecution.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest condemned what he called «the despicable and cowardly murder» in a statement late Sunday, and said the Islamic State’s «barbarity knows no bounds.»
«This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region,» Earnest said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group, «including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.»
The release of the video also brought swift responses by religious institutions in Egypt. The Coptic Church in a statement called on it followers to have «confidence that their great nation won’t rest without retribution for the evil criminals.»
Al Azhar, the prestigious Cairo-based seat of Islamic learning, said no religion would accept such «barbaric» acts.
Last month the extremist group released a video that showed the immolation death of a Jordanian pilot shot down over Syria as well as pictures purporting to show the execution of two Japanese hostages.
Since 2014, a number of persons from countries around the world have been beheaded by the Islamic State. Some of the beheadings have apparently been conducted by an individual who appears in several videos speaking English with a British accent. He is known by the pseudonym «Jihadi John».
The group has beheaded three Americans — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig. They have also killed Britons David Haines, a former Royal Air Force engineer; Alan Henning, a taxi driver from northwest England; and British photojournalist John Cantlie.
Earlier this month the Islamic State group announced the death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller, but blamed her demise on airstrikes by the Jordanian military. The 26-year-old woman had been held by the Islamists for 18 months. Jordan and the United States have denied she was killed in a coalition airstrike.