CAIRO — The Egyptian military said on Monday that it had carried out airstrikes in Libya in retaliation for the beheading of more than a dozen Egyptian Christians by a branch of the Islamic State extremist group there.
In a statement Monday morning, the Egyptian military said that it had conducted airstrikes at dawn against training camps and arms depots of the Islamic State group in Libya, but it did not provide further details. The Foreign Ministry said that Egyptian warplanes had struck Derna, a town in eastern Libya that is a hub of Islamist militancy. It is also close to the Egyptian border, well within the range of the jets.
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The airstrikes are a dramatic escalation of Egypt’s role in the continuing battle between armed factions in Libya for control of the country. With the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt has worked covertly to support a Libyan general who is fighting to take back the capital and much of the coast from a rival coalition of militia groups, some of which are made up of Islamist extremists.
In a televised address late Sunday night, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt vowed that his country would take action to avenge the killings.
“Egypt preserves the right to respond, with the appropriate manner and timing, in order to carry out retribution on those killers and criminals who are stripped of the most basic of human values,” Mr. Sisi said.
The Egyptian military said in a statement issued around 8:30 a.m. that the dawn strikes were “retribution and response to the criminal acts of terrorist elements and organizations inside and outside the country.”
“We stress that revenge for the blood of Egyptians, and retribution from the killers and criminals, is a right we must dutifully enforce,” the statement said. Egyptian state television showed footage of F-16s taking off in the dark as the statement was read on the air.
The broadcast then showed a video montage of jets, soldiers, tanks and warships, all set against a soaring musical score. It was narrated by a deep male voice, familiar to those who heard military announcements when generals seized power from President Hosni Mubarak four years ago.
“Honor, nation,” the narrator says. “This is the slogan of men who ask for death as a sacrifice for the nation. They are men who do not know the meaning of impossible. They penetrate rocks and mountains, and they challenge difficulties. They race each other for martyrdom, on land, sea and air. Their life is a heroic epic, and their martyrdom a sacrifice for dignity and a pride for Egypt.”
The leader of the Libyan air forces for the anti-Islamist faction, Saqer al-Joroushi, appeared on Egyptian state television and estimated that the strikes had killed “not less than 40 or 50” people.
Egypt’s air assault came less than 12 hours after the main Islamic State group released a video online that appeared to show fighters from the group’s self-proclaimed Tripolitania Province beheading more than a dozen Egyptian Christians.
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The Christians were among the thousands of Egyptians who routinely travel across the border to Libya to find work in its oil-rich economy, forging a deep connection between the two neighboring states. About 20 Egyptian Christians disappeared around the coastal city of Surt weeks ago, and last month the Tripolitania Province released a picture showing that it had captured them.
The video of their beheadings Sunday night aroused special horror in Egypt and beyond because it was filmed with the theatrical brutality that has become a trademark of the Islamic State.
Released under the logo of the Islamic State’s media arm and with the title “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” the video appeared to show a row of masked fighters dressed in black and with ceremonial knives at their chests parading more than a dozen captives in orange jumpsuits along a Mediterranean beach in western Libya.
Speaking in English, the lead executioner proclaimed in the video that the fighters were part of the larger Islamic State group fighting in Syria, warned that they would allow no safety to “crusaders,” invoked the American military’s burial at sea of Osama bin Laden and alluded to apocalyptic prophecies about a coming battle for Rome. The fighters then forced their captives to the ground, sawed through their necks, and let the blood darken the waves.
The video appeared to show a greater degree of communication and collaboration between the Islamic State and its Libyan satellite group than Western officials had previously known.
Egypt’s airstrikes on Monday threatened to draw it further into the Libyan conflict. Islamist fighters in Libya could now seek to stage attacks across the long, lightly patrolled desert border with Egypt, or to increase their support for allied Egyptian militants already attempting to foment an insurgency here.
The Egyptian military gave no indication on Monday of whether the airstrikes were a one-time punishment for the killing of its citizens or the beginning of a more prolonged military effort.
The leaders of Libya’s internationally recognized government welcomed the Egyptian retaliation. That government has relocated to the Libyan cities of Tobruk and Bayda, not far from the Egyptian border, and has allied itself with the general fighting against the Islamist factions.
At least three different groups of militants inside Libya have proclaimed themselves so-called provinces of the Islamic State, mainly through online messages and videos. Their leaders and locations are unknown.
Supporters of anti-Islamist factions inside Libya have increasingly used the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State to refer to all of their opponents, whether extremists, more moderate groups, or less ideological local and tribal militias who are merely allied with the Islamists.
The blurring of the terms for the purpose of propaganda against the Islamist-allied forces now increases the uncertainty about which positions Egypt might have sought to attack.
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Mr. Sisi, a former general who led the military ouster of the Islamist president here 18 months ago, has made it clear since then that he views the chaos in Libya as a danger to Egypt’s own stability. Mr. Sisi’s government has struggled to suppress a festering Islamist insurgency set off after the military removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2013, and Egyptian officials say they believe that the militants move across the porous border with Libya to obtain weapons and support.
Last summer, Egypt provided bases for jets from the United Arab Emirates to launch at least two airstrikes targeting Islamist-allied militias in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, when they were fighting for control of the city.
That was before those militias successfully took the capital and Libya broke into two rival coalitions, each with its own prime minister and government. The internationally recognized government has moved to the east, and the Islamist-allied factions have set up their own provisional government in Tripoli.
Although Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have not publicly acknowledged the airstrikes last year, officials of the internationally recognized government have said Egypt has continued to play a crucial role in their fight. In interviews last month, they said that Egypt had helped repair and supply a small air force that has been their greatest advantage against the Islamist forces.
Correction: February 16, 2015
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the extent of the airstrikes confirmed by the Egyptian military. One round of airstrikes was confirmed by the military, not two.
Credit : NYTIMES.COM, Merna Thomas contributed to the reporting. 2-16-15