Many in Ethiopia are reeling from the news that several Ethiopians were killed in Libya by the Islamic State group, which over the weekend released a video purporting to show the killings.
The victims were planning to go to Europe by boat from Libya but were captured and then killed by the Islamic extremists, said grieving family members and government officials. Ethiopia’s government on Monday declared three days of mourning.
The killings have shocked many in the predominantly Christian country, where some on Monday gathered in an Addis Ababa slum to mourn two former residents whose faces were recognized in the Islamic State video.
The 29-minute video, released on Sunday via social media accounts and websites used by the extremists, shows many Ethiopian Christians held captive in Libya being shot or beheaded by militants.
Eyasu Yikunoamlak and Balcha Belete left Ethiopia two months ago with the aim of reaching Europe. They are believed to have left Ethiopia through Sudan and later traveled to Libya where they planned to take a boat to Europe but they were seized by Islamic State militants, relatives told The Associated Press on Monday.
Relatives and friends of the two victims in Cherkos Village, a poor neighborhood 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, said he first learned 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 (Islamic State) video,” a tearful Seyoum said.
Family members stopped getting calls from Eyasu a month ago and grew worried, but news of a violent death was never expected, he said.
“His dream was to go to Italy and then reach the U.K. and help himself and his family members,” he said.
Redwan Hussein, an Ethiopian government spokesman, said on Sunday he believed the victims were Ethiopian migrants trying to reach Europe, an account bolstered by local residents who said impoverished young men are tempted to make the perilous journey to Europe.
“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. This is the whole community’s opinion.”
Ethiopia’s three days of mourning start Tuesday, when lawmakers will meet to discuss the killings and consider the country’s possible response, the governmment said in a statement.
Ethiopia has angered Islamic extremists over its military’s attacks on neighboring Somalia, whose population is almost entirely Muslim. A militant in the video said “Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap,” but the video did not specifically mention the Ethiopian government’s actions.
The Islamic State video showing the killing of the Ethiopians starts with what it called a history of Christian-Muslim relations, followed by scenes of militants destroying churches, graves and icons. A masked fighter brandishing a pistol delivers a long statement, saying Christians must convert toIslam or pay a special tax prescribed by the Quran.