February was a deadly month for Christians living in Egypt’s North Sinai, as seven Christians were martyred in about a three-week period. While no one has claimed responsibility for the killings, many believe the attacks were carried out by an Egyptian affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) called Wilayat Sinai.
Nearly 120 families have fled the Sinai city of El-Arish as a result of the recent attacks, and many are now living in a refugee camp in Ismailia, 125 miles southwest of El-Arish. A VOM worker met with 50 families in late February, praying with them and distributing food, blankets and other emergency aid.
On Feb. 19, shortly after the fourth Christian was killed, ISIS released a video declaring its plans to intensify attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christian population. Release of the video followed the bombing in December of a chapel connected to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, the heart of the Coptic Papacy. A masked man in the video, later reported to be the bomber, is heard saying, “Oh crusaders in Egypt, this attack that struck you in your temple is just the first with many more to come, God willing.” Twenty-nine people were killed in the bombing.
Kamel Yousef, a 40-year-old plumber in El-Arish, is the most recent victim of the deadly attacks on Christians. He was shot to death on Feb. 23, before militants set fire to the family’s house. Kamel’s wife and children escaped the attackers while they chased Kamel onto the roof of the house, where he attempted to hide.
The first Christian killed in the series of recent attacks, 35-year-old Wa’el Youssef, was shot to death in a market on Jan. 30.
Then, on Feb. 12, masked gunmen ambushed 40-year-old Bahgat Zakher as he was driving, forcing him to stop his car before shooting him in the head. A day later, 57-year-old day laborer Adel Shawqi also was shot in the head.
On Feb. 16, Gamal Girgis, a 45-year-old schoolteacher and shop owner, was murdered.
Less than a week later, on the morning of Feb. 22, the body of Saad Hakim Hanna, 65, was found in the streets of El-Arish. He had been shot in the head. The charred remains of his son, 45-year-old Medhat, were found nearby on the same morning.
Orthodox Coptic Christians are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and they compose about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 90 million people. Roughly 1.4 million people live in Sinai, but the region’s Christian population is believed to be much smaller than 10 percent because Christians have been targeted in Sinai for the last several years.
VOM continues to meet with Coptic leaders in the region to discuss how we can best help families of martyrs and other Christians fleeing persecution.
Posted: March 2, 2017
Updated: March 9, 2017