Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned on Tuesday airstrikes that targeted the Libyan city of Derna on Monday night and early Tuesday morning and left at least 20 civilians dead and 23 injured. Libyan and Egyptian sources, however, have confirmed that the airstrikes on the city were carried out by the Egyptian Air Force to preempt future militant operations in Egypt.
An Egyptian government source familiar with the Libyan file told Mada Masr that the airstrikes on the city besieged by the Libyan National Army (LNA) were carried out by Egypt’s Air Force in Derna last night, after Egypt acquired information regarding militant organizations in Libya. This information suggested that militants would breach the Egyptian-Libyan border and cross into Egypt.
Before the Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning the strikes and mourning the civilian casualties, several Western governments contacted the Egyptian government to ask whether the Egyptian Air Force had carried out the bombing, according to the source.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna accused Egypt’s Air Force of carrying out the strikes. “The Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna offers its condolences to the families of the martyrs who have ascended to God after the Egyptian airstrike.”
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya released a statement on Tuesday condemning the strikes and calling on relevant entities to offer humanitarian assistance, particularly for those needing medical attention.
LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mosmary denied responsibility for the strikes, placing accountability instead with what he called “terrorists.” Mosmary added that the LNA had ordered an investigation to be carried out into the matter.
“The Arab Republic of Egypt condemns the strike carried out in Derna on Monday night that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in the harshest terms,” Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. “Egypt has offered its condolences to the families of the victims, as well as the Libyan political and popular leadership.”
A medical source from the Wehda Hospital in Derna confirmed to Mada Masr that 20 civilians were killed in the airstrikes, including three women, one man. The rest of those killed were were children, and 23 others were injured.
Most of those killed in the strike come from the Feitur, Sergiwa, and Mansouri families, according to an initial list detailing the names of those killed that Mada Masr has acquired.
Colonel Yehia Usta Omar, a Derna security official, told Mada Masr that the initial airstrikes targeted a house in the residential area of Fataeh. The same site was targeted a second time, he added, after first respondents had gathered in the area. Usta Omar placed blamed Egypt for the strikes.
Mohamed al-Mansouri, the spokesperson for the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna, said that their camps and sites were not targeted in the airstrikes. Mansouri further denied media reports that asserted a council building had been bombed while leadership conducted a meeting.
The Derna local council announced a three-day period of mourning on Tuesday and condemned the silence of the authorities responsible for the long-standing siege and the Monday airstrikes. Civil society organizations in Derna called for a protest before Tuesday’s funeral procession.
The LNA has besieged Derna for 17 months. All entrances and exits by land to the city were closed in August. Over the past two years, fighter jets have carried out airstrikes on Derna.
In June, the LNA spokesperson told LANA news that former Egyptian military officer Hesham al-Ashmawy, who has headed the militant organization Al-Mourabitoun since 2015, was found to be in Derna, where he was conducting military operations alongside other militant organizations and jihadi commander Mohamed Sorour. According to the spokesperson, Sorour was in charge of recruiting and training foreigner recruits inside the militant organizations.
Egypt’s Armed Forces announced on May 26 that it had conducted airstrikes targeting training camps affiliated with militant organizations in Libya, in response to an attack on a bus carrying Coptic Christians in Minya that left 28 people dead. The Egyptian Air Force also conducted airstrikes in Jufrah, where LNA strongman and Egyptian ally Khalifa Haftar was carrying out a military campaign at the time.
The Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna, which was targeted at the time by Egypt’s airstrikes, denied responsibility for the attack on the bus. The Islamic State, which was not known to be operating in Derna at the time, later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Egypt carried out airstrikes in Derna in February 2015, targeting Islamic State bases that controlled the city at the time. The strikes came after the Islamic State beheaded 21 Egyptians working in Libya.
Derna, which is 272 kilometers away from Salloum, the main border crossing between Egypt and Libya, is considered one of the cities that the LNA aims to wrest control of from Islamist militants.
Additional reporting from Derna, Libya by Johr Ali.