Hundreds of Christians have fled the city of el-Arish in Egypt after a spate of attacks by suspected Islamic militants. A priest told the Associated Press that he and some 1,000 other
Christians had fled for fear of being targeted next. He blamed lax
security, saying: “You feel like this is all meant to force us to leave
our homes. We became like refugees.” It was earlier reported
that militants had shot dead a Coptic Christian man, Kamel Youssef, in
front of his wife and daughter. The account had been given by two
officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
A priest in the city said militants then kidnapped and stabbed his
daughter before dumping her body near a police station. It wasn’t
immediately possible to confirm his account. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack but
earlier this week Egypt’s Islamic State group affiliate, which is based
in the Sinai Peninsula, vowed in a video to step up attacks
against the embattled Christian minority. A spate of killings by
suspected militants have spread fears among the Coptic community in
el-Arish as families left their homes after reportedly receiving threats
on their mobile phones.
A day before Youssef’s killings, militants killed a Coptic Christian
man and burned his son alive, then dumped their bodies on a roadside in
el-Arish. Three others Christians in Sinai were killed earlier, either
in drive-by shooting or with militants storming their homes and shops. The Coptic Church has made no official comment on the spate of murders.
Coptic Christians, who make up 10 per cent of Egypt’s population,
have increasingly come under attack since the military’s overthrow of
elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. A top target of
Islamic extremists throughout the years, the Christians heavily
supported the army-chief-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and
his security crackdown on Islamists since Morsi’s removal.
The priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of
retribution, said a total of 30 Christians — including Coptic soldiers —
have been killed since then, including two priests.
The northern region of Sinai, bordering Gaza Strip and Israel, has
been a battleground between the military and Islamic militants since
2011 when the region sank into lawlessness during the 18-day uprising
that led to the ouster of longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
Since then, there have been waves of Christian displacement. The
first one was from the town of Rafah when the only church, the Holy
Family, was looted, torched and destroyed in several militant attacks.
The church is built on the site where Christians believe the Holy Family
first stopped to rest after crossing into Egypt. Subsequent waves
followed militants’ threats in past years. According to the priest, less
than 1,000 remain.
El-Sissi declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in the
volatile region in 2014 in the aftermath of deadly suicide bombings that
killed over 30 soldiers. Blaming the stepped-up militancy on Gaza’s
ruling Hamas group, which uses underground tunnels for smuggling
contraband, the Egyptian military razed hundreds of houses in the border
area to create a buffer zone and stop what it described as the
infiltration of extremists from Gaza.
Since 2013, Islamic militants have carried out several suicide
bombings across Egypt, mainly against the police and the army. However,
in December, an IS-affiliated suicide bomber blew himself up inside a
landmark Cairo church, killing around 30 worshippers, mostly women.
That attack marked a turning point in the Sunni militant group’s
strategy as Christians became its top targets. The extremists have used
Christians’ support for el-Sissi as a pretext to increase attacks
The Islamic State group’s video, released on Monday, showed the
bomber behind the December church attack and described the Christians as
“infidels” who are empowering the West against Muslim nations.