Ethiopian officials have revealed that the 30 Christians filmed being beheaded and shot by Islamic State militants in Libya are likely to have been desperate migrants trying to reach Europe.
The 29-minute video released yesterday is titled 'Until It Came To Them - Clear Evidence', and shows dozens of militants butchering two separate groups of men in the north African country.
Now the Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Hussein said officials are in contact with their embassy in Cairo to establish the authenticity of the video and to work out whether, as suspected, the victims were only in Libya in the hope of boarding a boat bound for Europe.
The news comes just hours after more than 900 migrants are feared to have died when the fishing boat they were travelling in overturned in the Mediterranean Sea shortly after leaving Libya in one of the worst maritime disasters since the end of World War Two.
Speaking of his concerns that the 30 brutally murdered Christians were migrants bound for Europe, Mr Hussein said: 'If this is confirmed, it will be a warning to people who wish to risk and travel to Europe through the dangerous route.'
Abba Kaletsidk Mulugeta, an official with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church's Patriarchate Office, said he also believed the victims were probably migrants
The video, released via social media and websites, could not be independently verified. However, it corresponded to other videos released by ISIS and bore the symbol of its al-Furqan media arm.
The video starts with what it called a history of Christian-Muslim relations, followed by scenes of militants destroying churches, graves and icons.
A masked fighter brandishing a pistol delivers a long statement, saying Christians must convert to Islam or pay a harsh tax prescribed by the Koran.
It shows one group of captives, identified as Ethiopian Christians, purportedly held by an ISIS affiliate in eastern Libya known as Barqa Province.
It also shows another purportedly held by ISIS in southern Libya calling itself the Fazzan Province.
The video then switches between footage of the captives in the south being shot dead and the captives in the east being beheaded on a beach.
It was not immediately possible to estimate how many captives were killed.
News of the video's release comes as the full horror of the ordeal suffered by hundreds of doomed migrants on board a fishing vessel that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea was revealed.
Hundreds of terrified migrants including women and children drowned 'like rats in a cage' on a smuggler boat because they were locked in the hold when it capsized, a survivor revealed today.
More than 900 people are feared dead after the fishing boat overturned in the Mediterranean in one of the worst maritime disasters since the end of World War Two.
A Italian coast guard ship today brought the bodies of 24 victims to Malta for burial before heading to Sicily with only 28 survivors who were plucked from the sea after the disaster off Libya.
Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said survivors spoke of 'haunting experiences.'
One of those rescued, identified as a 32-year-old Bangladeshi, has put the number of people on board the boat when it capsized at 950, adding that only a handful have been rescued.
'There were also 200 women and 50 children with us. Many were shut in the hold. They died like rats in a cage,’ he was reported as saying by La Sicilia.
He also told La Repubblica: 'Me and others survived because we were on the deck, others drowned and many others were prisoners in the hold of the boat because the traffickers closed the portholes to stop them from coming out and they have finished at the bottom of the sea.'
Tens of thousands of migrants are fleeing Libya as extremists loyal to the Islamic State terrorist organisation take advantage of the political chaos engulfing the country.
With ISIS having established strongholds in the towns on Sirte and Derna, and with smaller bases elsewhere in the country, it is thought the surge in numbers of migrants making the dangerous journey could be linked to the terror group's ever-growing presence.
Fear of capture and execution at the hands of the radical Islamists is no doubt one element driving the desperate migrants to leave Libya as quickly as they can, dangerously overloading vessels operated by heartless people traffickers who reportedly locked dozens of passengers in the boat’s hold, preventing all hope of escape in the event of it capsizing.
As well as the spread of ISIS in the country, Libya is currently in a state of civil war - with two rival governments controlling and operating in different areas of the country.
People smugglers are taking advantage of the subsequent chaos and confusion tearing the country apart to ply their trade with little to no threat of being caught.
In 2015 there have already been 30 times more migrants dying off the coast of Libya than in 2014 - which was itself a record-breaking year.
The survivor was flown yesterday by helicopter to Catania, in Sicily, where he was interviewed by prosecutors. He was being treated in a hospital.
The small numbers of survivors make more sense if hundreds of people were locked in the hold, because with so much weight down below, 'surely the boat would have sunk,' said General Antonino Iraso, of the Italian Border Police, which has deployed boats in the operation.
Rescuers recovered 24 bodies from the sea following the disaster, which took place off Libyan waters, south of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, shortly after midnight on Sunday.
Meanwhile, about 100 migrants rescued by a different merchant vessel in a separate operation were being brought to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo late Sunday night, authorities said.
The tragedy also comes just days after another shipwreck in the area claimed 400 lives.
It is thought both boats capsized after those on board rushed to one side to signal to passing merchant ships.
Mr Muscat said the incident was further evidence that Italy and Malta need more support in dealing with the migrant crisis.
'A time will come when Europe will be judged harshly for its inaction as it was judged when it had turned a blind eye to genocide... They are literally trying to find people alive among the dead floating in the water,' he said.
'This could possibly be the biggest tragedy to have ever taken place in the Mediterranean.'
Foreign ministers have added the issue of migrants to the agenda of a European Union meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
'Europe can do more and Europe must do more,' said Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament.
'It is a shame and a confession of failure how many countries run away from responsibility and how little money we provide for rescue missions.'
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the latest incident shows the UK needs to change its stance.
'The British Government must immediately reverse its opposition to EU search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, as the EU needs to restart the rescue as soon as possible', she said.
'It is immoral to turn our backs and leave people to drown in order to deter other desperate travellers - and of course it hasn't worked.
'Since the operations were cancelled even more people have tried to cross the Mediterranean, and thousands have died.
'The EU should do the basic, humanitarian thing and rescue those in peril on the sea.'