The Islamic State group’s branch in Libya has claimed the abduction of 21 Christians, a monitor reported Monday, as Egypt confirmed that 20 of its citizens were being held in the country.
“Urgent. Soldiers of the Islamic State captured 21 Christian crusaders,” the jihadists said in a statement picked up by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Three pictures showing several men were published alongside the terse statement, which did not specify when the men were abducted and did not reveal their nationality.
A spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry confirmed to AFP in Cairo that 20 Egyptians had been abducted in two separate incidents in neighbouring Libya. He did not say when they were kidnapped.
Badr Abdel Atti did not specify their religious affiliation but said seven Egyptians and 13 others abducted separately in Libya “are still being detained” by their captors.
The IS statement follows conflicting reports on the fates of two groups of Egyptian Coptic Christians reportedly abducted in recent weeks.
A source close to the Libyan government said on January 3 that Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia had kidnapped the 20 men in the city of Sirte over several days.
Two days later a tribal source said 13 of the men had been released and had in fact been detained by people smugglers but the information was never confirmed.
The IS statement, which does not list any demands for the release of the men, said they had been taken “in various areas of Tripoli Province” — referring to a former administrative region that includes Sirte.
The coastal city of Sirte is in the hands of Islamist militias including Ansar al-Sharia, which the UN last month added to its terror list over links to Al-Qaeda and for running IS training camps.
More than three years since dictator Moamer Kadhafi was ousted and killed in the 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Libya is awash with weapons and powerful militias, and it has rival governments and parliaments.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians work in Libya, mainly in the construction sector, and they have been targeted as the country has descended into chaos.
In February, the bodies of seven Egyptian Christians who had been shot were found near Libya’s second city Benghazi, parts of which are held by Islamist militias.