Libya bishop: 'I am ready for martyrdom and will not leave'

Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya.Reuters

The Italian Bishop of Tripoli has refused to leave the Libyan city in spite of the deaths of the 21 Coptic Christians, and has said that he is ready for martyrdom.

Bishop Giovanni Martinelli has stayed in the city although almost all of his countrymen have left, repatriated by the Italian government in the face of the serious threat posed by Islamic State jihadists. They returned on a ferry escorted by an Italian warship covered by Predator drone flying overhead.

In an interview with the Corriere del Veneto newspaper, Martinelli said that his decision to stay was "the culmination of my testimony". He said that he had been threatened in the street by a Muslim man who told him, "You are against Islam."

"In church they came to tell me that I must die," he added.

"But I want you to know that Father Martinelli is well," he said, adding that if it was God's will that he should be beheaded, "so it will be".

"Being able to give testimony is a precious thing," he said. "I thank the Lord that he allows me to do so, even with martyrdom.

"I'm not moving from here. And I'm not afraid."

He referred to the action of St Francis of Assisi, who accompanied a Crusader army to Egypt in 1219 and visited the camp of Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in an unsuccessful attempt to convert him, saying: "Whoever wants to go among the Saracens must leave everything."

The bishop has lived in Libya since 1971 and regards it as his home. When he arrived in the country there were 150,000 Christians there, a number that has dwindled to only 300.