Fears for 17 Christians missing in Libya

The Coptic Orthodox Virgin Mary church in Cairo. High unemployment has pushed Christian Egyptians into Libya in search of work despite the risk of persecution and even death.REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A group of Egyptian Coptic Christians has gone missing in Libya, sparking fears for their safety and even of a possible repeat of the 2015 massacre of Coptic Christians by ISIS.

According to International Christian Concern (ICC), the Egyptians have been missing since September 30 but it is uncertain as to who is holding them and why, and suspicions abound that they were deliberately targeted.

Some fear that they have been taken by an armed group. 

One lawyer friend said that they had been detained by police after failing to renew their work visas, although he added that it was still unusual for them to be detained in this way.

"The Copts were staying in the Gargash District in Tripoli. In this residency, they were surrounded by so many persons of other countries like India and Bangladesh. So the action of detaining 17 Copts only is such a mysterious action! We are fearing of repeating an incident like the one who did by ISIS. We are contacting the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to intervene in the situation,"he said.

It is six years since ISIS carried out the barbaric execution of 21 Coptic Christians, 20 of whom came from Egypt and one from Ghana. 

ICC said that regardless of what has happened to the 17 Copts currently missing, their friends and loved ones "hold a common fear that these individuals were targeted because of their Christian faith and that they may face a deadly fate reminiscent of the 2015 beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by ISIS".

Claire Evans, ICC's Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "This is a frightening time for Egyptian Christians, regardless of whether their family or friends are among those missing.

"The memory of ISIS marching Coptic Christians down a Libyan beach to their deaths runs deep; it was an event that was traumatic for all of Egypt's Christians, an event that held serious implications for everyone.

"We urge the relevant authorities to do everything possible to investigate the cause of this latest disappearance, to bring these men home alive, and the perpetrators to justice."

A report published by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in March said that ISIS had become "relatively weak" in recent years but that the instability in Libya may provide fertile ground for its resurgence.

Christian human rights group Open Doors this week warned that Libya is "as dangerous as ever" 10 years after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. 

According to Dr David Landrum, Director of Advocacy at Open Doors UK: "The absence of a single central government to impose law and order in the country has made the situation for Christians precarious. The level of violence against Christians in Libya is now categorised as 'extreme'."