ADDIS ABABA // Ethiopia began three days of national mourning on Tuesday, with joint Christian and Muslim prayers for more than 20 killed by ISIL militants in Libya.
The murders, shown in a video released by the killers, shocked many in the predominantly Christian country and were condemned by Pope Francis and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The victims were planning to go to Europe by boat from Libya but were captured and then killed by the extremists, said grieving family members and government officials.
“They are animals, they are outside of all humanity,” said Tesfaye Wolde, who saw his only brother Balcha Belete executed on the video released by the militants.
“I saw him kneeling, a masked man pointing a gun to my brother and his friend, with a knife to their throats.”
Abune Mathias, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, called the killings repugnant.
Pope Francis on Monday sent a letter to Mr Matthias, expressing “distress and sadness” at the shocking violence perpetrated against Christians in Libya.
Mr Ban condemned the killings and “utterly deplores the targeting of people on the basis of their religious affiliation”, his spokesman said.
Joint prayers were held along with Muslim leaders, led by Sheikh Mohammed Jemal, head of Ethiopia’s Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, who said the killing of people like “chickens” had no place in Islam.
The ISIL video released on Sunday, showed militants in Libya holding captives who they described as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.
A masked fighter in black brandishing a pistol was seen threatening Christians if they did 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.”
Eyasu Yikunoamlak and Balcha Belete left Ethiopia two months ago with hopes of reaching Europe. They are believed to have left Ethiopia through Sudan and later travelled to Libya where they planned to take a boat to Europe but they were seized by ISIL militants, relatives said.
Relatives and friends of the two victims in Cherkos Village, a poor neighbourhood of the Ethiopian capital, said Eyasu and Balcha grew up together and used to live in the same house.
Seyoum Yikunoamlak, the older brother of Eyasu, first learnt about the death of his younger brother on Sunday evening while checking the news on Facebook.
“I was very worried how to tell our family but everyone is a Facebook user these days so people in our village told our family that Eyasu was among the group that are on the [ISIL] video,” a tearful Seyoum said.
His family stopped getting calls from Eyasu a month ago and grew worried.
“His dream was to go to Italy and then reach the UK and help himself and his family members,” he said.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse