An Egyptian court has handed down a death sentence to seven people over links to the Islamic State terror group and the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in February 2015.
The seven suspects have been accused of being members of an ISIS cell in Marsa Matruh in northwest Egypt, and of planning attacks after receiving military training at jihadist camps in Libya and Syria, according to Agence France Presse. An unspecified number of the suspects were accused of taking part in the beheadings in Libya.
Three of the suspects were sentenced to death in absentia, and 13 others are currently on trial in the same case. The rulings against the 13 suspects are expected to be handed down on Nov. 25.
Egypt’s mufti, who is the official interpreter of Islamic law, will be reviewing the death sentences, although his verdict is not considered legally binding.
The video of the beheadings was released by the terror group in 2015, with the title “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” The incident sparked international outcry and prompted Egypt to launch air strikes against jihadist targets in the neighboring Arab state.
At the two-year anniversary of the beheadings in February, the relatives of the victims, who were kidnapped separately in Libya throughout December 2014 and January 2015, honored the memories of their loved ones.
The children of the 21 Copts said that they are “proud” of the courage displayed by their fathers by refusing to renounce their faith.
One of the widows said that her husband “kept the faith, and was martyred in the name of Christ. His faith was very strong. I’m proud of him. He has lifted our heads up and honored us and all the Christians.”
A number of Coptic Christians have crossed into Libya in search of work despite the risks of persecution.
“We know it is more likely we will die than live in Libya but we don’t have a choice… More and more people are going to Libya because of the economic crisis here. You can’t get work, you can’t make money in Egypt. We are aware of the dangers, particularly as Christians,” a Coptic Christian said, according to The Christian Post, citing The Sunday Times.
According to a Libyan intelligence report, an estimated 700 ISIS militants have re-grouped in the valleys and desert areas south of the city of Bani Walid, and another 3,000 terrorist fighters from different groups, including al-Qaeda, are believed to be operating in the country.