Coptic Christians Forced To Flee From Isis’ River Of Blood.
William had just returned home to north Sinai when masked militants came for him at his corner shop at dusk. They shot him in the head, dragged his body outside and, screaming “apostate,” beat his corpse in the street. The Christian shopkeeper had fled the town of Arish months earlier after seven Copts had been shot by jihadists. Yet despite death threats from Islamic State, the authorities told him to return to the city to collect his sons’ school certificates, so they could sit their exams. William, 43, is one of at least 115 Coptic Christians killed in Egypt by suspected Isis militants in a year. Isis has warned the estimated nine million Christians living in Egypt that they will pay for their faith with “a river of blood from their sons.”
Isis militants have stormed Christian homes, businesses, churches and cathedrals and have fired on buses of Coptic pilgrims. More than 300 Christian families fled north Sinai in February after jihadists drew up a hit-list of 40 and started working on it. William was murdered in May. His widow Mariam, 35, said, “The situation in Arish is getting harder. After William was killed, Christians there realised they would never be safe.” She was speaking from Ismailia beside the Suez Canal, where she is living with her two sons, aged ten and 12. “Some families go back to check on their homes but it’s usually only women. They have to be extra careful, they always take supplies with them so they don’t risk going to the shops. They keep their doors and windows bolted. Some just stay in the church there.”
Last month Isis militants stormed a Sufi mosque near Arish killing more than 300 people, the single largest terrorist attack in Egyptian history. President Sisi vowed to crush Isis in Sinai within three months. “You can use all brute force necessary,” he told his security forces. The interior ministry cancelled annual leave for its employees and deployed 230,000 personnel to protect more than 2,900 religious buildings over Christmas, but Mariam has seen little change.
Christians are bracing themselves for another onslaught in the festive period which culminates with the Coptic Christmas on January 6. Last Friday, hundreds of Muslims chanting anti-Christian slogans stormed a church just south of Cairo, destroyed the interior and injured three people. The authorities have detained 15 people. Ishaq Ibrahim, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, estimated that at least 115 Christians had been killed in suicide bombings and shoot-outs claimed by Isis since the bombing of Cairo’s main cathedral which left 29 people dead in December last year. On Palm Sunday 49 people were killed in a double suicide bombing of a cathedral in Alexandria and a church in Tanta. In May gunmen shot dead 29 people on buses taking families to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor. At least eight Christians in north Sinai were picked off by Isis militants in the first six months of the year, prompting a mass exodus. “The government is trying to deal with this by restricting the movement of Christians themselves. They are not solving the root problem,” Mr Ibrahim added.
Attacks against Christians rose dramatically after the violent overthrow of President Morsi in 2013. Supporters of the Islamist leader unleashed a wave of assaults, torching and raiding dozens of churches and homes. Few people have been held accountable for the attacks, even those perpetrated by Isis. Instead, the government favours reconciliation deals, by which Christians are encouraged to pardon their Muslim attackers in exchange for money. Two weeks ago a court in Minya acquitted defendants accused of burning Christian homes in Samalut last year. They were pardoned in a reconciliation agreement.
Magda, 52 a Christian whose husband Masiq, 58, was murdered by Isis in February, had to return to Arish this month because she was worried her home would be burgled. Two of her three sons are still at school and university there. “They are teenagers who could be going back home one day and get arrested by the government or get shot at by terrorists in a shootout. I just keep praying everything will be OK.” She estimated 20 Christian families were still in Arish because their children were at school or they were concerned for their homes and businesses.
A few months after William was murdered, Mariam’s family tried to sell the stock in their shop in Arish to support the children. Militants returned in a truck, broke into the shop, cleared it out and drove away. But she is defiant. “I’m not going to change my behaviour. I will keep going to church even for Christmas,” Mariam said. “Even if I hear the church will be bombed I will go to it to be reunited with my husband.”
Credit: Bel Trew Ismailia for The Times, 26 December 2017.