21 MARTYRS OF LIBYA
Coptic Date: 8 Meshir
On 12 February 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) released a report in their online magazine Dabiq showing photos of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian construction workers that they had kidnapped in the city of Sirte, Libya, and whom they threatened to kill. The men, who came from different villages in Egypt, 13 of them from Al-Our, Minya, were kidnapped in Sirte in two separate attacks on 27 December 2014, and in January 2015. This was not the first time that Egyptians in Libya have been the subject of abuse for political reasons, a pattern that goes back to the 1950s.
Prior, in 2014, a militia group in eastern Libya declared its affiliation with ISIL and then took over parts of Derna in late 2014. People allied to the group claimed responsibility for attacks across the country, including the Corinthia Hotel attack in January 2015.
On 15 February 2015 a five-minute video was published, showing the beheading of the captives on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. A caption in the video called the captives the "People of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church". In the video, the leader was dressed in camouflage, while the other terrorists were dressed in black. The victims were all dressed in orange jumpsuits, as in many previous ISIL videos. The Coptic Church of Egypt, Egyptian government, as well as the Libyan parliament, confirmed the deaths.
Later, when one of the perpetrators of the operation was arrested, he admitted in the investigation that the slaughter had taken place at the beach opposite Al Mahary Hotel in Sirte.
The President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced a seven-day period of national mourning and called for an urgent meeting with the country's top security body. In a televised address, al-Sisi declared his country reserved the right for retaliation. He also reiterated an offer to facilitate Egyptians' evacuation from Libya and imposed a travel ban on citizens to Libya. Al-Azhar also condemned the incident. The killings were also addressed particularly by the United Nations Security Council, French President François Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Roman Catholic Pope Francis telephoned Coptic Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences. At an ecumenical meeting with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Pope Francis stated "They only said Jesus help me. The blood of our Christian brothers is testimony that cries out. Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn't matter: They're Christian!"
On 21 February 2015 a week after their death the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria canonized the 21 Coptic Martyrs as Saints their feast day would be celebrated on 15 February of the Gregorian calendar. The commemoration falls on the feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple which is the 8th Amshir of the Coptic calendar.
After the beheadings, the Coptic Orthodox church released their names, but there were only 20 names. In the video, the leader's victim was of black African descent, in contrast to the others, who were ethnic Copts. It was later learned that this 21st victim was named Matthew Ayariga and that he was from Ghana.
On 15 May 2018, the remains of the 20 Egyptians (the body of the Ghananian, Matthew Ayariga, was not on the plane), were returned to the cathedral, which was built for them and named after them (Church of martyrs of the faith and homeland) in martyrs village (formerly Al Aour or Al Awar) in Minya. A special shrine has been built in which the remains were laid, So that people can visit. Churches and monasteries bells were ringing all over Egypt when the remains arrived on board a plane coming from Libya to Cairo International Airport; Celebrations of the return of their remains to the homeland. They were received by Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and a large number of priests and Ambassador Nabila Makram the Egyptian minister of Immigration and Egyptians Affairs Abroad and officials of the organs of the state at the airport. The Holy Liturgy in church was presided over by Bishop of Samalout Anba Paphnutius.
Anba Paphnutius requested that the body of Matthew Ayariga, would be brought to Egypt "to be joined with his Coptic brothers in their final resting place". In 2019, the Libyan government agreed to transfer the body of Matthew Ayariga to Egypt.
May their prayers be with us. Amen.