Islamic month of Ramadan marked by violence.By Our Middle East Correspondent
ISTANBUL, Turkey, July 6, 2016 (Morning Star News) – A Coptic pharmacist was stabbed to death and then beheaded by a group of Salafi Muslims in Egypt’s Delta region Monday (July 4), the latest in a string of attacks against Copts during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Family members found the body of Magdy Attia, 33, in an apartment building where a group of Salafi Muslims reside in Tanta, Gharbia Governorate, according to local media. The attackers had stabbed Attia some nine times and decapitated him, leaving his remains in the room of the apartment where he was slain.
Family members reportedly said Attia went to the apartment building to deliver medicine and stood outside talking to a couple of men for about 30 minutes before going inside. Soon Attia began screaming repeatedly for help, but no one came, according to local reports.
An hour later, family members heard something had happened at the apartment building, went there and found the body. Eyewitnesses reportedly confirmed that they saw two men in clothes covered with blood running away from the building. Security cameras installed on nearby streets obtained a clear image of the men. No one has been arrested in the crime.
Attia’s cousin, David Naser, told Arabic-language Christian website The Voice of Free Christians that police need to “do their job and punish the killers and not let the case end with his death and have all his rights die with him. We hope that they won’t make false claim, such as ‘It was done preventing a theft or an honor crime.’”
Less than a week earlier, Islamic extremists killed a priest in Egypt’s Northern Sinai. On Thursday(June 30), the Rev. Raphael Moussa was returning from administering a church service when he was gunned down by terrorists aligned with Daesh, also known as the Islamic State (IS).
Moussa, 46, went to an automotive repair shop in El-Arish for maintenance to his car and was standing outside waiting when a gunman on a passing motorcycle sprayed him with automatic gunfire. The bullets hit him in the head and chest and instantly killed him.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Daesh affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula posted statements on its social media accounts claiming responsibility for the shooting.
The killing came nearly three years to the day of the slaying of another Coptic priest in El-Arish, Mina Aboud Sharubim, on July 6, 2013. In an attack that closely mirrored the one on Mousa, Sharubim was killed when masked gunmen shot him in front of a church-owned building. Moussa and Sharubim were both formally ordained in a ceremony together in June 2012.
Five days after militants shot and killed Sharubim, the headless body of Christian businessman Magdy Lamei was found in the town of North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwayed. He had been kidnapped the same day Sharubim was killed. Lamei was known in the area as being a committed Christian, which at the time was probably a defining factor in the decision to kidnap him, according to priests in North Sinai.
The combined visible killings, constant repeated threats and attacks on places of worship in Northern Sinai in 2013, including the burning of The Church of St. George in El-Arish, where Moussa served, led to the virtual depopulation of Christians from the villages of El Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed.
At the time, there were about 130 Christian families that were living in Arish. It is unknown how many ultimately have returned, but according to Nader Shokry, an editor and leading advocate for Coptic rights at Copts United, there are only five priests left in Northern Sinai.
As dangerous as life is for Copts in North Sinai, it is more so for priests.
“After the church was burnt and the first priest was killed, the Copts and even the priests and the bishop left and went to their hometowns for a while, and no prayers were held there [in El-Arish],” Shokry said. “Later they slowly started coming back and attending church. There was no security around any church. The security police were available only at checkpoints. So priests had to limit their activities because of the safety situation.”
According to Shokry, the killing of Moussa was meant to break the spirit of Copts in the region and remind them of the anti-Christian attacks that spread across Egypt in the wake of then- President Mohamed Morsi being deposed after nationwide protests on June 30, 2013.
“The killing of Father Raphael was a shock for us all, because we know most of the fighting in Sinai is between the terrorists, the army and the police,” Shokry said. “I was worried from June 30th that something bad might happen to the Copts, so this is obvious that it was a message to remind people [of 2013] and stir fear among the Copts in Sinai. The killing of Father Raphael made people think that Sinai is on the verge of being completely empty from all its Copts.”
Two days later, on Saturday (July 2), a 13-year-old girl and daughter of Coptic priest Angelos Mourad was reportedly stabbed by a Muslim.
Losia Mourad was shopping at a market near her church in Souhag when she crossed the road and, according to those familiar with the attack, Mohamed Taha grabbed her by her hair and bent her head back to expose her neck. Taha reportedly tried to slit her throat, but a bypasser stopped the attack and Losia only suffered a superficial wound to her shoulder. She was taken immediately taken a hospital, where she was treated and released the same day.
As with many other assaults against Copts in Egypt, relatives of the assailant have claimed Taha is mentally ill. No charges have been filed against him, and today he remained under medical observation in a psychiatric facility.
In another incident that happened during the month long, day-time fast of Ramadan, hundreds of Muslim villagers in Amriya, south of Alexandria, accused area Copts of building a church on June 17 then rioted. The villagers attacked a Coptic-owned construction site of a multi-story apartment building, assaulted Coptic men in the village and then attacked and looted several Christian-owned homes and a Coptic community center.
Police later arrested six Muslims and six Copts, including the owner of the construction site. The Muslims were released with no charges, in time to break the Ramadan day-time fast, but the Christians were charged with holding prayers without permission and building without a permit, then released the following morning.
In a surprisingly similar incident, another mob on Thursday (June 30) rioted in response to a rumor of another church being built in Kom El Loofy village in Samalout. The 300-strong mob torched four Coptic-owned homes in Upper Egypt and otherwise harassed or assaulted Copts.
Moussa’s slaying was a crushing blow on the Copts of El-Arish, as well as to Shokry, who called Moussa, “one of the most courageous priests” he has known.
“He trusted God and believed that God’s will would be done. He didn’t fear anything and believed that all is in God’s hand,” Shokry said. “His friendship was very special, and to hear the news of his death, it hurt me deeply. I already miss him, as I haven’t talked to him for two months. I can’t believe that I won’t talk to him again.”