A video has emerged that purports to show militants of the Islamic State terrorist group beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians kidnapped in Libya.
The video, released late Sunday, 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.
In a televised speech following the killings, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced that he was banning all Egyptians from entering Libya and that Egypt reserved the right to respond to the murders, which he called an “abhorrent act of terrorism,” in a suitable way and at the right time.
Before his address to the nation, Sissi called an emergency meeting with the National Defense Council, the country’s top security body, to discuss a possible response.
News of the killings first broke on social media on Feb. 12, but the Egyptian government did not comment.
The release of the video 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.
The video follows others last month from the extremist group that showed the immolation death of a Jordanian pilot shot down over Syria and videos showing 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.