Egypt has confirmed that its military planes have carried out a series of airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) group targets in Libya.
The strikes began at dawn on Monday after the IS released a video showing the mass beheading of 21 Egyptian Christian Copts on the coast of Tripoli. The men were captured in two separate incidents in December and January.
Journalists on the ground stated that there were at least eight airstrikes carried out over the eastern Libyan city of Derna, a stronghold for the Islamic State.
No word has yet emerged on whether there are any civilian casualties, although the Egyptian military spokesperson said that the strikes were directed at training camps and weapon depots.
The Libyan air force commander Saqer al-Joroushi stated that 40 IS militants were killed.
“There are casualties among the individuals, ammunition and the communication centres belonging to them (IS),” he said. “The number of deaths are not less than 40 or 50 for sure.”
A picture tweeted by Al Manara, a Libyan media platform, initially showed that amongst those killed were three children of the Karshawqi family. Yet Alwasat, another Libyan news service, issued a tweet saying that the children died due to smoke inhalation in Al Bayda months ago.
In a televised statement on Sunday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said that his country reserves the right to respond to the killing of its citizens.
“Egypt reserves for itself the right to respond at the appropriate time to avenge the killing of its nationals,” he said.
While the term “revenge” is riding high on the minds of Egyptian officials, other Egyptians took to Twitter to express their disapproval on what they saw as a foreign military intervention in their neighbouring country.
The hashtag reads: “Against the Egyptian military intervention in Libya.”
Libyans also tweeted their opposition to the Egyptian airstrikes, which were coordinated with the Libyan armed forces under the House of Representatives’ General Khalifa Haftar’s command.
A number of Arab countries have voiced their support for Egypt’s airstrikes on Libya, stating their willingness to contain the threat IS presents to the Middle East region.
The UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nayhan reiterated that his country will devote its resources to Egypt’s campaign against terrorism, and described the killing of the 21 Egyptian Copts as “an ugly crime.”
“The United Arab Emirates is devoting all its resources to support the efforts of Egypt to eradicate terrorism and the violence directed against its citizens and reaffirms its total support for Egypt,” he said.
Nayhan also backed the “legitimate” Libyan government to extend its control over the entire country in order to eliminate IS and to prevent the militant group from carrying out further attacks and executions.
Bahrain’s official news agency reported that King Hamad al Khalifa sent a message of condolences to the Egyptian president, describing the executions as “heinous.”
The monarch stands in solidarity with the “punitive” measures Egypt carried out over IS, the agency reported. According to Jordan’s information minister, Bahrain has deployed fighter jets to Jordan to support the US-led coalition against IS in order to assist in “international efforts to eliminate terrorism.”
Yet others saw the Egyptian airstrikes as playing right into IS’s plans of eliciting a retaliatory response instead of a measured strategic one. The readiness that Egypt took to launch airstrikes also fuelled the belief that Libya, with all of its domestic tribulations and chaos, has fallen victim to the larger geopolitical gameplay of sowing more strife, as foreign airstrikes threaten the sovereignty of Libya.
General Haftar, who leads the Operation Dignity military campaign against “terrorism” in Libya, and his backers the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk are at loggerheads with the Misratan Led Alliance of Libya Dawn and the General National Congress in Tripoli. The two sides form part of a complex mosiac of cities and tribes vying for control over Libya, home to Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Twitter users accused Egypt’s strikes on Libya as representing an attempt by President Sisi to back a “military coup” by Haftar.
“Sisi is not fighting IS because 21 [Egyptians] were killed. Sisi is helping Haftar to achieve a military coup in Libya.”