SIRTE, Libya, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- At least 13 Coptic Christians were kidnapped from their homes by masked gunmen in the Islamic militant-controlled city of Sirte in west Libya, according to witnesses.
Around 15 armed men in masks stormed a complex housing workers early Saturday, going room to room and forcing residents to show identification before separating Muslims from Christians, one witness said. The militants handcuffed and took into custody about 13 Coptic Christians, all reportedly men.
The abduction comes about a week after seven Egyptian Christians were taken in similar fashion from a fake checkpoint in Sirte.
Located in northwest Libya, Sirte has been a stronghold for Islamic militants since the fall of former President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, when vying rebel factions began fighting each other for control of the North African nation.
An internationally-recognized government took charge in the country's east. Western Libya, recently plagued by widespread power outages, is occupied by religiously-conservative armed groups such as Ansar al-Shariah, blamed for the Sept. 2012 attack on a consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Eastern Libyan forces conducted airstrikes against militants of the Libya Dawn movement in Misrata Sunday after the group killed 19 troops in a Christmas Day attack on a power plant in Sirte.
A large Egyptian community, both Christian and Muslim, resides in Libya, where most work in construction.
The conflict between Libya's vying factions has appeared to represent a sort of proxy war between Turkey and Qatar favoring Islamic groups in the country's west and Egypt and the United Arab Emirates supporting the eastern government. UAE reportedly flew airstrikes out of Egyptian airbases against militants in west Libya in August.