Members of the choir mourn during a vigil for the more than 30 recently murdered Ethiopian Christians at the hands of Islamic State militants. Congregants of St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church held a vigil for the more than 30 Ethiopian Christians who were shot and beheaded by Islamic State …
By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
The beheading and shooting of 30 Ethiopian migrants by Islamic State fighters last week in Libya is tormenting metro Denver’s 30,000-strong Ethiopian-American community.
Some say they couldn’t eat or sleep after watching horrific videos.
On Saturday night, more than 500 gathered at St. Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church to mourn. They held candles, sang, wept and prayed before photos of the victims.
“It is incomprehensible for our minds to understand how any human being could do such a thing to another. We stand together to mourn our brethren and pray for peace,” community spokesman Neb Asfaw said. “The terrorists will not break our spirit. We stand together with our faith strengthened by the courage our brothers showed.”
It is a community that knows terror too well, rooted in the Cold War-era flow of refugees fleeing famine and political persecution in Ethiopia. Soviet-backed rulers used systematic torture. Resettling in Denver, the refugees thrived, starting families and businesses that range from restaurants to car dealerships.
A 29-minute video circulated last Sunday by the Islamic State showed dozens of militants holding separate groups of migrants captive in Libya. Islamic State operatives described the captives as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church.” They were lined up and shot in a desert. A dozen were filmed as militants marched them along a beach before beheading them. Images of bloody severed heads appeared on Internet videos. Some videos now have been removed from websites.
The killings followed beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians on a beach in Libya.
Last week, Ethiopians also were among those slaughtered in southern Africa as mobs turned on migrants.
Across metro Denver, Ethiopian-Americans who gazed at the videos — some saying later they regretted this — described difficulties eating and sleeping. “We’re pretty shaken up, seeing the videos. It is just cruel, and people are really depressed,” Asfaw said. “I didn’t sleep for three days. I couldn’t sleep. Not because they are Ethiopians. They are people. And there were people walking around with heads.”
Islamic State fighters said they were waging jihad against Ethiopia. Asfaw noted the Ethiopian forces fighting Islamists in neighboring Somalia. “They were saying: ‘This is just the beginning.’ ”
They contend smarter and bolder action must be taken to confront the Islamic State as the movement expands beyond Iraq and Syria.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and former state Rep. Joe Miklosi attended the vigil and agreed with Ethiopian-Americans that more must be done to stop the Islamic State as it spreads beyond Syria and Iraq into lawless areas in Africa. “ISIS is like a cancer. … America must show leadership,” Coffman said.
He said the U.S. should help coordinate air support and send “some special operators” to fight. “It’s essential that we blunt the momentum,” he said. “They are attracting new recruits, to include elements in the United States.”
Denver Muslim and Jewish community members may attend a memorial Sunday. Ethiopians also plan a rally at the Capitol on Monday.
“We’ll also try to raise awareness of the persecution of Christian minorities in the Middle East and xenophobia against African migrant workers in South Africa. In South Africa, migrant workers are being killed by mobs, and some are being put on fire live,” Asfaw said. “Those videos are circulating around the Internet.”
Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700 or firstname.lastname@example.org