Two Coptic Christian brothers executed by Islamic State extremists earlier this month in Western Libya have been remembered by their church family as martyrs who kept the faith and refused to deny Christ even in the face of certain death.
According to a report from the Christian persecution monitoring agency International Christian Concern, 37-year-old Wasfy Bakhit Gad Mikhail, his brother, 31-year-old Sabry Bakhit and their younger brother, 27-year-old Fahmy Bakhit migrated to Misrata, Libya, in 2013 hoping to find employment to provide for their families in Upper Egypt.
On Nov. 6, Wasfy received a phone call from a Libyan man asking him if he would be able to put a concrete roof on a building. Excited about the opportunity, Wasfy gave the man the address and arranged for him to pick him up so that he could go to the job site and give a cost estimate.
After the man had arrived, Wasfy and Fahmy went with him to give him a quote, while Sabry stayed at home. Although expected home later that day, the brothers never returned.
"I waited for them all day and night to come back, but they didn't return," Sabry told ICC. "I stayed up all night and was very worried about them."
Sabry and his cousins continued to search local hospitals and police stations for the two brothers, but they were nowhere to be found.
A week after Sabry's brothers disappeared, their bodies were found on Nov. 13 about 40 miles outside of Misrata with gunshot wounds to their heads. After the bodies had been taken to the hospital, it was determined that they were killed on Nov. 12.
The news of the brothers deaths didn't reach reached Sabry until four days later: "On Monday, Nov. 16, a Libyan friend told us that two men were found killed in Wasi Kiam area, and their bodies are in the morgue of Zliten hospital," he explained. "When we arrived at the hospital, it was a very big shock to us when we saw their bodies. They were the bodies of my two brothers, both of them shot in the head. It was terrible."
Sabry said that he was told at the hospital that when his brothers' bodies were found, they were wearing black gloves with Islamic phrases written on them.
The brothers' bodies were flown back to Egypt later in November so they could be buried in the family graveyard. The two men were honored by friends and family at a funeral service at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Sohag, Egypt shortly after that.
"They were targeted and killed because they are Christians. They kept the faith and refused to deny the Lord Jesus Christ," Fr. Sulaiman Botros, the priest of Mar Girgis Coptic church, told ICC. "They are our church's martyrs. We are proud of them. They aren't dead but have been saved by God in Heaven. They have entered into glory, and they are in a better place than all of us. They've got their crown in Heaven, and they are with Jesus now. No more pain for them, only joy and peace."
Over the past year, dozens of Christians have faced persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists in Libya, a country Open Doors USA ranks as the 13th worst country for Christian persecution on its annual World Watch List.
In February, ISIS released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. In the horrific video, the Christians are shown whispering the name of Jesus as their heads were being hacked off their bodies.
At the time, Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.K., said that he had forgiven the fighters who committed those murders.
"As a Christian and a Christian minister, I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don't forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world," stated the Bishop.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis also showed his sympathies for the Copts in Libya, denouncing the actions of the Islamic State and expressing the bond between all Christians.
"The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony that cries out to be heard," Francis said. "It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ."