State Department press secretary Jen Psaki stressed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS wasn’t just an issue of religion, even when confronted with the pope’s words on the murders.
Pope Francis today said a Mass for “our 21 Coptic brothers, slaughtered for the sole reason that they were Christians.”
“The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard,” Francis said earlier. “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!”
Asked about the pope’s reaction in a phone call today with reporters, and asked specifically “does the administration agree” the men were killed because of their faith, Psaki said she was “not going to put new labels or — or, certainly, argue with comments of the pope.”
“But I would say that we have spoken in the past about, you know, our concerns about the, you know, targeting of — of religious groups, and we’ve seen, unfortunately, this happen in Iraq and other places,” Psaki said. “ISIL has gone after not just individuals for religious affiliation but for being a woman, for being — for even people with disabilities. And so we’ve seen the barbarity of their tactics.”
“But, you know, beyond that, obviously, this is simply a horrific attack of terrorism and one that we came out this weekend and joined many countries in the world in condemning.”
The Obama administration stood out among other U.S. allies for not identifying the slain men as Coptic Christians, simply condemning the mass murder of “Egyptian citizens.” Australia, the UK, and Canada all noted the victims were Christian.
Psaki was also asked about spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments to MSNBC that “we cannot kill our way of this war” and assertion that disaffected jihadists need good-paying jobs.
“Marie, my colleague, was saying what we’ve said many times, which is this is not only a military solution. A military solution will not bring an end to ISIL,” Psaki replied. “That’s why there are several components of our coalition. Yes, the military component is important, and we’ve done thousands of strikes in Iraq and Syria. That’s continuing to pick up, as you know, and you’ve covered quite a bit.”
“But we also need to delegitimize ISIL. If the ideology is out there and growing, ISIL will continue to grow and thrive. We need to cut off their financing. We need to prevent foreign fighters from moving.”
Psaki said Harf was talking “not just ISIL” but referring to the Countering Violent Extremism summit that began in Washington today, which “is broad.”
“It’s not just about ISIL. That’s certainly the part of it. But it’s about countering violent extremism and how to take on this threat over the long term,” she said. “And obviously, there are several components as — and the evidence of that is also all of the different breakout groups that are happening throughout the summit. But, again, I think this is something we’ve talked about quite a bit. And the need to make sure we’re working with countries to address some of the root causes that have led to the — you know, ability to recruit.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), whose state includes a “vibrant and thriving Coptic community,” said the “innocent men were murdered because of their Christian faith.”
“But this attack was targeted at all people — Coptic, Egyptian, American, and all who reject extreme ideologies that have no basis in religious doctrine, but rather are rooted in hatred and ignorance,” Menendez added in a statement.