The residents of Al Aour, a dusty village in the Egypt's Minya Governorate, are struggling to come to terms with their loss. Thirteen of their relatives were among the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians beheaded by the Islamic State on a beach in Libya, and featured in a recent video released by the extremist group.
As the graphic footage was paraded online by Islamic State (also referred to as ISIS) supporters, it reached Al Aour, just south of Cairo, on the same day. The screams of women and children soon echoed through the village. Yet amid the sadness, the majority of the village inhabitants surprisingly expressed a sense of happiness regarding the killings of their relatives.
The village received the news of the deaths with shock and agony, but it also evoked different images for them. The image of martyrdom. The image of heroes. "I am happy for my relatives. They had faith in God. They had faith in Jesus Christ. And that is what matters. They died for their faith. They died for Christianity," 43-year-old Bishop Feloubes Fawzy, who lost his nephew and four of his cousins, told VICE News.
The mother of 24-year old murdered laborer Abanoub Ayiad. She told VICE News: "He called me when his friends were abducted. He asked me to pray for him. They abducted him a few days later. We lived in a misery for so many days, hoping he would come back. May God forgive ISIS for the pain and suffering we have been though. I gave the best gift to God. My son." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
The wife, daughter, and sons of 42-year-old laborer Tawadros Youssef. His wife told VICE News: "My husband had a dream. He wanted a two-bedroom flat for the family. When he decided to go to Libya last year to find work, I strongly rejected the decision and expressed my thoughts regarding his safety, especially being Christian. He said he would die anyway if does not travel and manage to bring food for his four children." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
A portrait of Tawadros with his family. Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
The village of Al Aour. Around 2,500 Christians live here from a total population of 6,000 people. Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
In memory of the victims, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has announced plans to build a new church for their relatives in the village. "It will be named the Church of the Martyrs," one of the relatives told VICE News.
The victims were kidnapped in early January in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, when masked gunmen knocked down the door of a dormitory of Egyptian workers. Before a revolution ousted former Libyan president, Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, there were around 2 million Egyptian migrants in the country. Today there are around 750,000, although thousands have reportedly returned recently.
The 21 victims were migrant laborers who travelled the 1,200 miles to Libya to find work to feed their families. Most of them worked in construction. Shenouda Shokry, 23, a farmer who travelled to Libya twice for work, and a brother of one of the victims, told VICE News that Egyptian workers initially have to pay an average of 8,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,050) to get a Libyan visa through an agency. Most make the long journey by land.
Related: Islamic State threatens to 'conquer Rome' in gruesome video that shows 21 beheadings. Read more here.
The mother of 25-year-old slain laborer Malak Ibrahim. She told VICE News: "I'm proud of my son. He did not change his faith till the last moment of death. I thank God. Malak is with his father now. Jesus. He is taking care of him." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
The brother of 30-year-old laborer Samuel Alham. "Samuel was not my brother. He was my closest friend. His death was the worst shock in my life." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
Bishop Felobous, who was related to five murdered laborers told VICE News: "Their leaving is painful. But we are not sad. We are proud of our martyrs. I congratulate ISIS. God is using them to bring martyrs to the world. Everything happens for a reason. I was very sad when I heard the news of the air strikes lead by the Egyptian military against ISIS. God asked us to even love our enemies." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
The mother of 29-year-old slain laborer Samuel Abraham. She told VICE News: "We thank ISIS. Now more people believe in Christianity because of them. ISIS showed what Christianity is. We thank God that our relatives are in heaven. He chose them." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
The wife and son of 26-year-old Milad Makin. She told VICE News: "ISIS thought they would break our hearts. They did not. Milad is a hero now and an inspiration for the whole world." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
The wife and son of 25-year-old laborer Malak Ibrahim. She told VICE News: "I wish my son would be a martyr as well. Christian martyrs change the world." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
Egypt is a historic and vital place for Christianity. Copts, Egypt's native Christians, currently constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and the largest religious minority in the region.
The recent Islamic State video makes reference to Egyptian women Camilia Shehata, the wife of a Coptic priest whose alleged conversion to Islam sparked a sectarian dispute in Egypt back in 2010. After the beheadings, a caption on the footage said: "The filthy blood is just some of what awaits you, in revenge for Camilia and her sisters."
In retaliation, Egypt carried out air strikes against 13 Islamic State targets in Libya, marking the first time Egypt had publicly acknowledged taking military action in the neighboring country. A spokesman for Egyptian Armed Forces General Command stated that the attacks were, "to avenge the bloodshed and to seek retribution from the killers."
Related: Islamic State video purportedly shows captured Kurdish fighters paraded in cages. Read more here.
Flopatir, the two-year-old son of 25-year-old laborer Malak Ibrahim. Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
Milad, cousin of slain laborers Gerges Samir, 20 and Malak Ibrahim, 25, who worked with them in Libya and witnessed their abduction. M"ilad told VICE News: "I heard gunmen stepping into their dormitory but I couldn't do anything. I was unarmed. Gerges travelled all the way to Libya to be able to pay for his brother's university. That is why his death was painful to his brothers more than any other person." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.
The wife, daughter, and sons of 29-year-old Samuel Abraham. His wife told VICE News: "ISIS thought the killing of our relatives would destroy us. It did not. It revived us. My husband is a martyr. Samuel did not have a job in Egypt. That was why he went to Libya. To find a job." Photo by Jonathan Rashad.