Libyan authorities uncovered a mass grave in which ISIS buried the 21 Coptic Christians they beheaded on camera, and the government will return the bodies to their families.
Libya’s Ministry of the Interior found the grave in the town of Sirte, once held by ISIS militants, after a former captive of ISIS provided the location of the bodies, according to Christian Today. ISIS kidnapped the 21 Christians between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015, beheaded them on a Libyan beach in Feb. 2015, and published a video of the execution for the world to see.
“The heads are separated from the bodies clad in orange jumpsuits, hands bound behind the back with plastic wire,” the Interior Ministry said.
Authorities identified 20 Egyptian men among the bodies as well as one man of unknown African origin. The image of the 21 Coptic Christians, now hailed as martyrs, became a church icon and inspired a strengthening of faith among Christians, according to Bishop Anba Angaelos of the U.K. Coptic Church.
“The same tool used to try and magnify violence and division actually became a platform for everyone to see the strength of their faith,” Angaelos told CT.
“An even stronger and more inconceivable message of forgiveness came from their families and communities,” Angaelos added. “They rejected the temptation to become bitter, angry and vengeful, and inspired the world with their gracious and courageous sentiment.
Though Libyan authorities did not conduct any DNA identification tests on the remains, the families of the 21 martyrs will officially identify the bodies, according to CT. Despite the heinous nature of the murders of the martyrs, their families and surrounding community were overjoyed to receive the news that authorities finally found the bodies.
“Our Lord chose the right time for the appearance and return of the remains of the martyrs after the completion of the building of the Church of the Martyrs of Libya to receive the blessed bodies of the martyrs to be placed at the new church in the village,” Father Makar Issa of The Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church told International Christian Concern. “This church is now completed and it is ready to receive its martyred sons, the heroes who lifted the head of the church and Christians all around the world.”
The mother of Mina Fayez Aziz, one of the recently found martyrs, told ICC that the finding of the bodies two years after their deaths was a great comfort to her.
“Before the news of finding the bodies of our martyrs, I was comforted and blessed,” she said. “But now, after hearing the news of finding the bodies of the martyrs, I’m comforted more than before. I will be very happy when I see them and will visit them every day at the church. We pray that God complete their safe return to us.”
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