The names of the 21 men executed by IS were: Milad Makeen Zaky, Abanub Ayad Atiya, Maged Soliman Shehata, Youssef Shukry Younan, Kirollos Boshra Fawzy, Bishoy Astafanous Kamel, Samuel Astafanous Kamel, Malak Ibrahim Sinyout, Tawadros Youssef Tawadros, Gerges Milad Sinyout, Mina Fayez Aziz, Hany Abdel Mesih Salib, Samuel Alham Wilson, Ezzat Boshra Naseef, Luka Nagaty Anis, Gaber Mounir Adly, Esam Badir Samir, Malak Farag Abrahim, Sameh Salah Farouk, Gerges Samir Megally and Mathew Ayairga.
These men were almost all Egyptians and most came from a small town called Al-Our. They had come to Libya as migrant workers to try and make a living and support their families back home. They were kidnapped in Sirte in two separate attacks on 27 December 2014, and in January 2015 by the Islamic State and received global attention when a video of their execution was posted on 15 February 2015.
In the video, one of the Islamic State members declares: “Oh people, recently you’ve seen us on the hills of Al-Sham [Greater Syria] and on Dabiq’s Plain, chopping off the heads that had been carrying the Cross delusion for a long time, filled with spite against Islam and Muslims, and today we… are sending another message: Oh crusaders, safety for you will be only wishes, especially when you’re fighting us all together; therefore, we will fight you all together until the war lays down its burdens and Jesus, peace be upon him, will descend, breaking the cross, killing the swine. The sea you’ve hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
After this statement, each of the men dressed in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on a beach, with their black-clothed attackers standing behind them is systematically beheaded. The video clearly shows many of the men praying “Lord Jesus Christ” in their final moments.
The 21st man: Mathew Ayairga
Mathew Ayairga was different from the rest of the martyrs as he was neither Egyptian nor Christian before the time of his execution. He was from Chad and a Muslim who did not support IS. When moments before his death the IS extremists demanded that he follow their extreme version of Islam, Mathew turned them down. After reportedly witnessing the “immense faith” of the Egyptian believers, he decided to become a follower of Christ.
On camera, one of the terrorists asked Matthew, “Do you reject Christ?”
“Their God is my God,” he responded, and he became one of the 21 men laying down their lives for their faith in Christ.
After the gruesome executions, the speaker declares “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission,” pointing his knife toward the sea.
Why these men inspire me
A reflection from one of our young Catholic community
When we think of martyrs, we think of people from many years ago standing up for their faith against tyrannical regimes confined to the annals of history. While Christian persecution has never gone away, rarely has it ever been so violent and genocidal as now in the Middle East.
The fact that these men all chose to keep the faith throughout this, right up to death, is beyond words. While I pray we will never have to experience such persecution here, their witness is inspiration, showing that even if it was to happen we should never give up our faith.