Ethiopia mourns ‘barbaric’ killing of Christians by ISIL

Ethiopia began three days of mourning on Tuesday with joint Christian and Muslim prayers for some 30 Ethiopian Christians killed in Libya by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters, as lawmakers considered what could be done to respond to the killings.

The incident, which came to light over the weekend following the release of a video purporting to show the killings, have horrified Ethiopians and sparked global condemnation, including from Pope Francis, who expressed his “great distress and sadness” at the “shocking violence perpetrated against innocent Christians.”

The ISIL video shows fighters in Libya holding captives, who are described as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church.”

A masked fighter in black brandishing a pistol makes a statement threatening Christians if they do not convert to Islam. The video shows one group of about 12 men being beheaded on a beach and another group of at least 16 being shot in the head in a desert area.

“If [ISIL] were religious, they would never have killed human beings,” said Kedir Hussein, a Muslim who attended the joint prayers. “The death of these young people is like someone was killed in my family.”

Ethiopia, whose population is almost two-thirds Christian, has angered armed groups over its military’s attacks on neighboring Somalia, whose population is almost entirely Muslim. Ethiopian troops are part of an African Union (AU) mission fighting the armed group Al-Shabab inside Somalia.

Friends and family gathered in Addis Ababa on Tuesday to mourn the death of Eyassu Yekunamlak, who was among those seen killed in the videos. 

“I have never seen such a barbaric act. I am shocked. It is a ruthless act. I can’t think of him being slaughtered. How on earth can such a merciless and horrible act happen to humankind,” Yekunamlak’s sister, Eyerusalem Asfaw, told Al Jazeera. 

Seyom Yekunamlak, the older brother of Eyassu, said he first learned about his brother’s death on Sunday evening while checking the news on Facebook.

“Our sorrow are great. We are very sad,” he told Al Jazeera. “When a human being is slaughtered like a sheep, it’s horrific.”

Family members stopped getting calls from Eyassu a month ago and grew worried, his brother said. Eyassu and his friend Balcha Beleta — whose death is also seen in the video — were believed to have left Ethiopia through Sudan and later traveled to Libya, where they planned to take a boat to Europe before being seized by ISIL, relatives of the men told the Associated Press on Monday. 

“There is no job opportunity here. I will try my luck too, but not through Libya,” said Meshesa Mitiku, a longtime friend of the two victims. “I want to move out. There is no chance to improve yourself here.”

Europe’s southern shores have seen thousands of migrants fleeing war and hardship, hundreds of whom have died in a string of tragic shipwrecks. An estimated 800 people drowned on Sunday off Libya in the Mediterranean’s worst migrant disaster ever.

Meanwhile, Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an NGO, reported Tuesday that three Eritreans who sought asylum in Israel over the past year were likely among the Ethiopians seen executed in the ISIL video. At least one of the three Eritreans, whose family member identified him in the ISIL video, was held at a detention center in Israel before leaving, the paper reported.

Hundreds of Ethiopians marched through the capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday demanding justice for the victims as members of parliament met to discuss the killings and consider the country’s possible response. The country’s foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom, urged other Ethiopians in Libya to contact the local embassy, saying the “government will cover all costs” to bring them back home to Ethiopia.   

Al Jazeera and wire services. Al Jazeera’s Caroline Malone contributed to this report.

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