20 Christians kidnapped in Libya amid increasing violence

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By Salma El Wardany

Masked gunmen in Libya kidnapped 13 Coptic Christian workers from Egypt, in the latest incident of religiously-motivated violence in the war-ravaged North African country.

The workers were taken from a residential compound in the coastal city of Sirte yesterday, Egypt’s state-run Ahram Gate reported. The incident brings the number of abducted Egyptian Copts to at least 21 since last week. A Coptic couple was also found dead in the same city on Dec. 23.

Sirte is under the control of Islamist militants who oppose the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, whose supporters include Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Al-Thinni’s government sought refuge in the country’s eastern region after militias took over the capital Tripoli last year. Omar al-Hassi set up a rival government in the capital with the backing of the militants.

“It’s definitely religiously-motivated,” Mina Thabet, researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, said by phone from Cairo. “Egyptian Christians are caught up in the middle of sectarian violence and chaos in Libya.”

The North African nation has descended into chaos after the ouster of its Libyan strongmanMuammar Qaddafi in a popular uprising. Battles between rival militias have driven citizens from their homes, sent foreigners fleeing and cut oil exports–Bloomberg