In Ethiopia people are reacting via social media, shocked at the news that their fellow countrymen were brutally murdered by the Islamic State (Isis) armed group, which released a video showing the beheading of 15 Abesha people, or those from Ethiopia and Eritrea, on a beach and the shooting of some 15 people on scrubland in Libya.
“What can I say? It’s so touchy. Most of us Ethiopians are very sad over hearing what the evil groups are doing. It happened before to our brothers in Egypt,” Dejen Aserat, a resident of Addis Ababa told RFI, referring to the 21 Coptic Christians killed by Isis in Libya in February.
The British Coptic community sent their condolences in a statement, calling these murders “appalling and senseless”.
“Having seen the courageous response of the families of the Coptic martyrs in Libya, we pray similar strength, courage and peace for all those suffering as a result of this brutal act,” said Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.
The Abseha men are shown on the video with the subtitle “worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian church”.
“You know, as a human being, we didn’t believe that religion will be expanded through killing. Most Ethiopians are really very sad hearing this thing and we will pray that God will put their souls in heaven,” said Aserat.
The video was posted on Sunday and condemned by the US government.
Associated Press reached Ethiopian government spokesperson Redwan Hussein on Sunday. He initially said that the government couldn’t confirm that those killed in the video were actually Ethiopian.
Ethiopians on twitter reacted angrily, giving the names and photos of two men in the IS video who allegedly come from the Cherkos area of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
One blogger who did not want to be identified told RFI that eight others were Ethiopian-born Eritreans.
RFI spoke to Geneva-based Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean Catholic priest from Agencia Habeshia who helps migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. He saw the video and says the men who died were en route to what they hoped would be a better life.
“I am sure these people are new arrivals to Libya to try and reach Europe … Really, this is a big tragedy for them, for the families,” he says. “This is a really dangerous situation for many others, refugees, who try to cross Libya to reach Europe.”
Father Zerai says that Ethiopians and Eritreans are a prime target in Libya because the most of them are Christian.
“Christian people, especially from Eritrea and Ethiopia, are discriminated against in Libya because of the religion issue. 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.”
The government needs to state if Ethiopia will fight in Libya after this atrocity, says Daniel Berhane, the editor of the Horn Affairs media outlet in Addis Ababa.
“It’s really appalling, it’s shocked many Ethiopians,” he said. “But I hope our government will not be dragged into a war there but we’ll have to wait for what they will say.”
The Ethiopian government released an official statement on Monday afternoon, 24 hours after the video was released, saying that those killed in the video were Ethiopian nationals and that it is working to identify the dead.
The government said it will observe three days of national mourning starting on Tuesday, with flags lowered to half-mast to mourn “atrocities committed against our nationals in Libya and South Africa” – a reference to Ethiopians who were recently targeted in the anti-immigrant violence in South African townships.
Meanwhile, Father Zerai is waiting for the 50 migrants who survived the latest Meditarranean shipwreck to be brought to the Italian mainland.
He’ll be on his way to Italy Monday evening to speak with those people to find out exactly how many migrants were on board and to give spiritual assistance to those who saw their deckmates die in front of them.