Twenty-One Coptic Martyrs of Lybia

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Coptic Orthodox Cross
Note: This article or section represents an Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.
Coptic icon of the 21 Martyrs of Libya. Image courtesy of Coptic iconographer Tony Rezk
On 12 February 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) released a report in their online magazine Dabiq with photos of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian construction workers they had kidnapped in the city of Sirte, Libya, and then threatened to kill. The men, who came from different villages in Egypt, 13 of them from Al-Our, Minya, were kidnapped in Sirte in two separate attacks on 27 December 2014 and in January 2015. Before that, in 2014, a militia group in eastern Libya had declared its affiliation with ISIL and then took over parts of Derna in late 2014. People allied to the group claimed responsibility for attacks across the country in 2015.

A few days later, on 15 February 2015, a five-minute video was published, showing the beheading of the 21 captives on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. A caption in the video called the captives the "People of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church". In the video, the leader was dressed in camouflage, while the other terrorists were dressed in black. The victims were all dressed in orange jumpsuits, as in many previous ISIL videos. The Coptic Church of Egypt, Egyptian government, as well as the Libyan parliament, confirmed the deaths. Later, when one of the perpetrators of the operation was arrested, he admitted in the investigation that the slaughter had taken place at the beach opposite Al Mahary Hotel in Sirte.

Roman Catholic Pope Francis telephoned Coptic Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences. At an ecumenical meeting with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Pope Francis stated "They only said Jesus help me. The blood of our Christian brothers is testimony that cries out. Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn't matter: They are Christian!".

Canonization by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

On 21 February 2015, a week after their death, the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, canonized the 21 Coptic Martyrs as Saints; their feast day would be celebrated on 15 February of the Gregorian calendar. The commemoration falls on the same day as the feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, which is the 8th Amshir of the Coptic calendar (Coptic Synaxarion: 8 Amshir).

Following the beheadings, the Coptic Orthodox church released the names of the martyrs, but there were only 20 names. In the video, one victim was of black African descent, in contrast to the others, who were ethnic Copts. It was later learned that this 21st martyr was Matthew Ayariga and that he was from Ghana.

The Cathedral of the New Martyrs

On 15 May 2018, the remains of the 20 Egyptians (the body of the Ghananian, Matthew Ayariga, was not on the plane), were returned to a new Coptic Orthodox cathedral that was specially built for them and named after them (Church of Martyrs of the Faith and Homeland) in 'Martyrs village' (formerly 'Al Aour or Al Awar' village), Minya, Egypt. The remains were laid in a special shrine that people can visit. Bells of churches and monasteries all over Egypt were ringing when the remains arrived on board a plane coming from Libya to Cairo International Airport, celebrating the return of their remains to their homeland. They were received at the airport by Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria accompanied by a large number of priest as well as government officials. The Holy Liturgy in the new cathedral was presided over by the Bishop of Samalout Anba Paphnutius. Anba Paphnutius requested that the body of Matthew Ayariga be brought to Egypt "to be joined with his Coptic brothers in their final resting place". In 2019, the Libyan government agreed to transfer the body of Matthew Ayariga to Egypt.

Formal Recognition by the Roman Catholic Church

In May 2023, during a visit of Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria to the Vatican, Pope Francis added the 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs to Catholic list of saints.

Names of the Twenty-One Martyrs

Bishoy Adel Khalaf Samuel Alhoam Wilson Hany Abdel-Masih Salib
Melad Mackeen Zaki Abanoub Ayad Attia Ezzat Bushra Nassif
Yousef Shokry Younan Kirillos Shukry Fawzy Majed Suleiman Shehata
Samuel Stephanos Kamel Malak Ibrahim Sinout Bishoy Stephanos Kamel
Mena Fayez Aziz Girgis Melad Sinout Tawadros Youssef Tawadros
Essam Badr Samir Luke Ngati Jaber Mounir Adly
Malak Faraj Abram Sameh Salah Farouk Matthew Ayariga


  1. The Coptic Orthodox Synaxarion
  2. The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs
  3. Pope Francis adds 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs to Catholic list of saints