A Coptic Christian church in Libya was bombed killing two people near the city of Misrata on December 30, 2012. The action has been condemned by the foreign ministry in neighboring Egypt., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Libya: 50 Egyptian Christians seized by Islamist militias
The video is startling enough: a room full of dozens of Egyptian Christians, lorded over by Libyan Islamist militiamen who have shaved their captives' heads and are abusing them over the bibles and religious images sitting on the table in front of them.
By Richard Spencer and Magdy Samaan in Cairo 10:40PM GMT 10 Mar 2013
What was to come was worse, according to those held, victims of a round-up of Christians by an Islamist militia in the Libyan city of Benghazi. "When I visited him he was in a pitiful condition," Ragaa Nagah, wife of one of the detainees, Emad Seddeek, told The Daily Telegraph this week.
"He was afraid to tell us how he was tortured, but he couldn't see out of one of his eyes.
"They were standing over him and beating him while they asking him to confess and when they were about to give him an electric shock he said, 'Don't do that and I will say anything you want me to say'." The round-up of scores of expatriate Coptic Christians last month in Benghazi, a centre of militant Islam in the new Libya, has turned into a wider purge of hundreds of Egyptians, the latest in a string of diplomatic clashes between the neighbouring, post-Arab Spring states.
The initial action was taken by a militant group claimed to be part of Ansar al-Sharia, a notorious Islamist militia accused of involvement in the death of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador in the city last September.
That group is not recognised by the authorities, though it operates unhindered in the city, but the captives then seem to have been handed over to a government-backed group, the Libyan Shield. This militia is so trusted by the authorities that it was tasked with protecting Mr Stevens.
What is clear from the video is that the Egyptians were accused of proselytising - which was banned under Gaddafi-era laws that have not been rescinded. The captors, some wearing the moustacheless beards common to purist Salafi Sunni muslims, ask why they have religious images and bibles.
The seizure of the men, said to number at least 50, followed the arrest of four Christians all from different countries for proselytising earlier in February.
It began with the arrest of a man called Shareef, said to be in possession of "thousands" of bibles - the figure has been put at between 30-45,000, and contacts from his mobile phone soon followed.
"Some police cars stopped by our house," Mrs Nagah, a teacher, said.
"They were arresting our neighbour Eissa Ibrahim.
"They asked my husband to come with them to make bail for Eissa before releasing him. But when he went with them they kept him in custody. They inspected Eissa's apartment and found some private religious books and photos, which were confiscated."
The militants then turned their attention to the community's church, attacking the priest-in-charge, Father Pola Isaac, and his assistant.
"They shaved Fr Pola's moustache off, and his head, and beat him up before letting him go," said Yussef Shaker, the son of another of the detainees, Adel Shaker.
Previous attacks on the small minority of Christians in Libya, nearly all expatriate workers, have been ascribed to one-off incidents. Two Egyptians were killed in December when their church in the town of Dafniya was hit by a grenade.
Local residents say this particular incident started with business rivalry - Egyptian muslims working as market traders claimed their Coptic fellow stall-holders were undercutting them.
Under pressure from the Egyptian government, the Libyan foreign ministry issued a strongly worded statement condemning the attack in Benghazi, saying it was "contrary to the rules of Islam". "The ministry strongly condemns Thursday's attack on the Egyptian church and the aggression towards Father Pola Isaac and his deputy by the irresponsible armed men," it said.
However the statement did not mention the detainees. Officials later said that charges of proselytism had been dropped and the detainees would be deported as illegal immigrants, but dozens remain in jail.
Since then, scores more Egyptians, including muslims have been picked up in raids, though some were sent home immediately.
Yussef Shaker said it was true that thousands of bibles had been found.
"Shereef said that Libya was free after Gaddafi and anybody who wants to read anything is free to do so.
"I'm not forcing anybody to buy the books."
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya said it was "deeply concerned" by the attack on the church, as well as recent attacks on freedom of the press.