Islamic State murders 30 African migrants in Libya, while up to 700 died off coast

Added to the danger of leaky fishing boats and unscrupulous people smugglers for African migrants trying to reach Europe has been the Islamic State, which murdered about 30 Ethiopian migrants, which the group claimed were Christians, on video.

Social Media Website via Reuters TV
Islamic State militants stand behind what are said to be Ethiopian Christians along a beach in Wilayat Barqa, in this still image from an undated video made available on a social media website on April 19, 2015.

A new video released by the self-declared Islamic State shows the murder of some 30 men, believed to be Ethiopian Christian migrants seeking passage to Europe, by Libyan affiliates of the militant group. The video's release coincides with what may prove the deadliest capsize yet of a boat carrying migrants toward Italy, highlighting that IS is only one danger on an already highly lethal migratory route.

The half-hour long video, released Sunday, shows the execution of two different sets of captives, described in the film as Ethiopian Christians. One group is murdered with guns while the other captives are beheaded. The Associated Press reports that a militant in the video says that the executions were meant to show "Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap."

The New York Times notes that the video was shot with IS signature production values, suggesting coordination between IS in Syria and Iraq and its affiliates in Libya, which had largely been assumed to be operating independently.

Fighters in the three regions of Libya had previously claimed responsibility for various acts of violence carried out in the Islamic State’s name, but most analysts presumed that most of those fighters, at least the ones outside Surt, were operating independently and using the name to capitalize on the group’s fearsome reputation.

Now fighters in all three provinces appear connected enough to the core group’s leadership that they were able to coordinate separate, mass executions, film them and send the video back to Syria or Iraq for production and release.

The exact number of victims and their identities were not immediately clear from the video, and Ethiopian authorities said they were trying to determine the video's authenticity. But government spokesman Redwan Hussein told AP that he believed the victims were likely migrants seeking passage to Europe through Libya. Libya has been a major migratory route due to local upheaval and its proximity to Italy.

"If this is confirmed, it will be a warning to people who wish to risk and travel to Europe though the dangerous route," Mr. Hussein said.

But the violence contained in the video is just a drop in the bucket of an already highly deadly people-smuggling route. The Christian Science Monitor reported a month ago that Libya has become "an increasingly lawless land" in which migrants face danger from "murderous soldiers, rampant violence, and abusive smugglers ... [that] could be as bad – or worse – than the perils they faced in their homelands." Correspondent Nick Squires writes:

Sekou Balde, a migrant from Guinea-Bissau, was attacked by four Libyan soldiers armed with knives when they raided the house near Tripoli where he was living with other African immigrants.

Lifting up his sweatshirt, he reveals the six stab wounds he received all over his body, including on the arms and in the back.

“They said ‘where is your money?’ I said that I didn’t have any. Then they attacked me. My brother was shot dead in front of me – boom, boom – as well as two of my friends,” he says, sitting on a bare patch of rocky ground outside Lampedusa’s refugee center.

“Everyone in Libya is armed now,” says Djiby Diop, a 20-year-old from Senegal who spent three months in Libya dodging gunmen. “If you don’t work for them, they shoot you. If you don’t give them all your money, they shoot you. Or they shoot you just for fun.”

And even if migrants do find their way onto boats traveling to Europe, the sea route is potentially more deadly than the danger that IS presents. A migrant-carrying boat traveling from Libya capsized overnight, in what may be the deadliest incident so far on the people-smuggling route to Europe. AP reports that while only 20 people are confirmed dead so far, one survivor said the boat may have been carrying as many as 700 people, most of whom are not yet accounted for. And the incident is just the latest in what has become a migratory crisis.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement Sunday that 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean by sea and 3,500 died last year. This year, 35,000 asylum seekers and migrants have reached Europe so far and more than 900 are known to have died in failed crossings. Last week, 400 people were presumed drowned when another boat capsized.

The smugglers are capitalizing on the migrants' desperation and taking advantage of chaos and violence in Libya, where rival militias, tribal factions and other political forces have destabilized the country since bloody end of the long dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

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