CAIRO, May 27, (Agencies): Egypt launched a fresh round of air strikes over Libya on Saturday, Egyptian military sources and an eyewitness told Reuters, targeting militant camps it said were responsible for a shooting spree that killed dozens of Egyptian Christians.
On Friday, Egyptian fighter jets struck eastern Libya just hours after a shooting that killed 29 and wounded 24 in the southern Egyptian province of Minya when masked militants boarded vehicles en route to a monastery and opened fire at close range.
Meanwhile, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah sent a cable to Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi expressing condolences and sympathy over the victims of the armed terrorist attack.
His Highness the Amir reiterated Kuwait’s strong condemnation of these criminal heinous acts that target security and stability.
His Highness the Amir reaffirmed Kuwait’s support to Egypt and whatever measures Cairo might take to counter such acts of terrorism. His Highness the Amir stressed Kuwait’s unwavering stance rejecting all forms of terrorism, as well as the country’s support to the international community in the fight against it and drying up its financing sources.
His Highness the Amir prayed to Allah Almighty to bestow his mercy and forgiveness upon the deceased victims, wishing the wounded speedy recovery. His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al- Hamad Al-Sabah sent two similar cables of condolences to the Egyptian President.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest directed at Egypt’s increasingly embattled Christian minority following two church bombings last month that killed more than 45, also claimed by the group.
Sisi said on Friday the air raids were targeting militant camps responsible for plotting the attack, and that Egypt would not hesitate to carry out additional strikes inside and outside the country. Two military sources told Reuters that three additional air raids were launched on Saturday morning in the area of Derna, a city where east Libyan forces led by Khalifa Haftar, a close ally of Egypt, has been trying to gain control from Islamists and other opponents.
A resident in Derna told Reuters that warplanes were seen striking the Dahr Al-Hamar area in the southern part of the city on Saturday. Egypt’s military spokesman declined to comment on the new raids. Derna has a history of Islamist militancy and is where Islamic State set up its first presence in Libya in 2014. However, the jihadist group was later chased from the city by local fighters and rival Islamists. The east Libyan air force said the strikes were targeting al- Qaeda linked forces.
Egypt’s military said in a statement it had “conducted several intensive day and night-time strikes” that successfully destroyed many targets, including training camps responsible for the Minya attack. A video uploaded to the military’s Facebook page depicted fighter jets being armed with missiles and taking off as well as aerial footage of air strikes. A spokesman for the pro-al-Qaeda Majlis Mujahedeen Derna, which controls the city in eastern Libya, said the Egyptian air force carried out eight raids on the city without causing casualties.
The air force loyal to Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, on Saturday said it had participated in the strikes, describing them as “heavy in casualties”. Majlis Mujahedeen Derna ousted IS from Derna in 2015 and also fights Haftar’s forces. The group has no known connections to IS in Egypt. The link between Derna and Friday’s attack was not immediately clear, but Egypt has repeatedly expressed concern over militants crossing from Libya to Egypt to conduct attacks. In a speech on Friday, Sisi said setbacks to IS in Syria were driving its fighters to try to relocate to Libya and Egypt’s Sinai. In past attacks, Egypt had usually identified local jihadists as the perpetrators. Friday’s attack followed two suicide bombings of churches in April that killed 45 Copts.
In December, a suicide bomber struck a church in Cairo, killing 29 Copts. IS claimed all the bombings and threatened more attacks on the Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 90 million. It has also killed several Christians in North Sinai, forcing dozens of families to flee.
The latest attack drew global condemnation. “Terrorists are engaged in a war against civilisation, and it is up to all who value life to confront and defeat this evil,” US President Donald Trump said in a statement. Pope Francis, who had visited Egypt in April, sent a message to Sisi saying he was “deeply saddened to learn of the barbaric attack”.
Pope Francis prayed Saturday for the Coptic Christians killed a day earlier in Egypt by Islamic extremists, saying that there are more Christian martyrs today than in ancient times. During a meeting with clergy in the Italian port city of Genoa, Francis urged them to pray “for our brothers the Egyptian Copts, who were killed because they did not want to renounce their faith.”
“Let’s not forget that today there are more Christian martyrs than in ancient times, than in the early day times of the church,” Francis told bishops, priests and nuns gathered in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. Twenty-nine people died in the attack Friday on Christians traveling to a monastery south of Cairo. The attack, which took place on the eve of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, was the fourth to target Egypt’s Christian minority since December.
The Egyptian Cabinet says 13 victims wounded in the attack remain hospitalized. Sisi blamed the attack on suspected Islamic State group extremists in Libya. After Francis visited Egypt last month, IS vowed to escalate attacks against Christians and urged Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and Western embassies.
Mourners sang, women sobbed and men cried out in anger in a packed Egyptian church at the funeral of some of the 28 Coptic Christians killed in Friday’s bus attack. Eight wooden coffins were lined up in front of the altar, each bearing a golden cross and a white piece of paper printed with the name of the victim inside.