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Attack on Christian pilgrims in Egypt kills 35

PC(USA) partner says country is experiencing an ‘escalation of violence’

by Michael Parker | Special to Presbyterian News Service

A screen capture taken from Egypt’s state-run Nile News TV shows the remains of the bus that was attacked while carrying Coptic Christians in Minya province on May 26, 2017.

CAIRO – Terrorists attacked Christians last Friday in Egypt’s western desert, near Minya, initially killing 28 and injuring 23. As of today, the death count has risen to 35. The terrorists, dressed in military fatigues, included 8-10 men who attacked a tourist bus traveling to St. Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Samalout. They also attacked a private vehicle and a truck carrying laborers from the monastery. The attacks were later claimed by ISIS.

The terrorists attempted to wave down the bus, which was coming from the province of Beni Suef. The driver continued until shots were fired and then stopped. The terrorists entered the bus and stole cell phones and jewelry from the women. They gave the men a chance to say the shahada, the Islamic creed. Some did and were not killed, but most refused.

Accounts vary as to what happened next. Tabet Samir Ishak, a Protestant seminarian from Minya, said the terrorists then opened fire. Some men were killed with a single shot to the head while others, however, were riddled with bullets. The terrorists then set fire to the bus and fled.

After leaving the bus, Thabet reports, the terrorists stopped a car and a truck that were coming from the monastery. The truck had seven workers from the monastery. They were killed, but two adolescent children were allowed to live in order to tell the story.

The wounded were taken to hospitals in Minya, and some were later taken to Cairo for treatment. On Friday evening there was a funeral for the victims in Deir al-Jarnous, a village near Minya. Though mourners were angry, Orthodox Bishop Agathony calmed the people, telling them that the victims were Christian martyrs.

Egypt cancelled the opening celebration of Ramadan, which officially began on Saturday, May 27. President Abdel Fattah sl-Sisi ordered airstrikes on several terrorist camps in Libya as a reprisal. Egypt’s western desert may now have joined northern Sinai as a center of terrorist activity.

Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Church of Egypt, issued a statement condemning the attacks, saying that they were “desperate attempts to spread fear in the county, but that these cowardly actions will not create cracks in the nation’s solidarity.”

Atef Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo and moderator of the Synod of the Nile, considers this latest terrorist attack to be an escalation of violence. Previous attacks, he commented, did not target women and children. He noted that one of the victims was a child only 18 months old.

Atef, who visited with survivors at the Nasser Medical Institute in Cairo, noted that the women were proud of their men for not saying the shahada to save themselves but deeply shocked by the brutality and inhumanity of the attack.

Atef does not blame the government for not protecting Christians in this incident. “Security forces,” he said, “cannot be expected to be everywhere protecting Christians.” However, he called on Muslim leaders not only to denounce violence but to cease speaking negatively about Christians. “Saying that Christians are infidels, kuffar,” he explained, “is an implicit incitement to violence. Simple, uneducated people can conclude from this that Christians are people not worthy of living.”

Thabet said that the Christians in Minya are saddened and angry over this attack, and they now consider themselves to be easy targets of Muslim violence. Christians in Minya constitute about one-third of the population in the province, while about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million is Christian.

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Michael Parker is the Presbyterian Mission associate for ecumenical partnerships serving in Egypt since 2012 at the invitation of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.


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