As Islamic State tightens its grip on Libya, 86 Eritrean Christians have reportedly been kidnapped in the country.
Human rights activist Meron Estefanos said that the Christians were migrants, the majority of them from city of Adi Keih, and were trying to make their way to Europe. Of the 86, a number were children and at least 12 were women. They were taken in a dawn raid on June 3 while travelling in a truck to Libyan capital, Tripoli.
According to Estefanos, who co-founded the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees, eyewitnesses said those travelling in the vehicle were divided by their religion, and six Muslims were released by the jihadists. "IS militants asked everyone who is Muslim or not and everybody started saying they are Muslims," she told IBTimesUK. "But you have to know the Koran, and they didn't."
Three Christians allegedly managed to escape, though it is not clear if their whereabouts are known. Estafanos told The Times: "We are trying to get them to a safe place, but there is no safe place in Libya."
In an interview with the Libya Herald, Estafanos added that many migrants are now trying to avoid Libya en route to Europe because of ISIS' growing influence. She also said that a video released by the jihadist group in April purporting to show the beheading of 28 Ethiopian Christians had been edited. A number of Eritrean Christians were also killed at the same time, she said.
It is now feared that Islamic State's latest abductees are facing the same fate.
Speaking to Radio France Internationale in April, Eritrean Catholic Priest Father Mussie Zerai said that Ethiopians and Eritreans were a key target for militants in Libya because the majority of them are Christians.
"Christian people, especially from Eritrea and Ethiopia, are discriminated against in Libya because of the religion issue," he explained. Speaking of the beheadings, Zerai added: "It's not the first time, it's not new — discrimination or bad treatment, all these things. But it's the first time they are targeted in this way. They are killed by ISIS because they are Christian. This is the first time."
Earlier this year, Egypt began conducting airstrikes in Libya following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in the country by ISIS militants. However, ISIS has now captured several areas, mostly in the east of Libya. Its proximity to Europe is believed to be one of its major attractions to jihadists.