A statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church has denounced the recent killing of seven Copts in Libya. The statement read:
“The Coptic Orthodox Church condemns the brutal terrorist incident that occurred on the evening of Sunday 23 February 2014 in the village of Garoutha, a suburb of Benghazi, Libya. Seven Egyptians lost their lives: Talaat Seddiq Bebawi, Hani Girgis Habib, Nadhi Girgis Habib, Fawzi Fathi Seddiq, Edward Nashed Boulos, Ayoub Sabry Tawfiq and Sameh Romany.
“The Church demands that investigations should be swiftly carried out into this hideous crime, and that the terrorists behind this agonizing incident should be caught. The blood of our children is very dear, and we all owe them to pursue their right.
“We ask the Lord to rest their souls in peace, and to grant solace to their families. May He protect the people of Egypt from the brutal cruelty of terrorism.”
Libyan officials had found the dead bodies of the seven Copts last Sunday night; their hands had been tied behind their backs before they were shot in the head. According to Libyan security, the ages of most of the victims ranged between 17 and 25.
The seven Copts belonged to one [extended] family from a Sohag village in Upper Egypt. When economic conditions in Egypt declined following the revolution in January 2011, they left together to Libya to work as construction workers. Despite the breakdown in security in the country and the threats to foreigners following the death of Gaddafi, the Egyptian workers decided to remain on for the sake of retaining a livelihood. Eight of them lived in the same apartment; seven were killed and the only survivor lived to tell the details of the incident.
Nash’at Talaat Seddiq, 26, said: “Armed men in military uniform who belong to the Islamist jihadi Ansar al-Sharia Brigades attacked the building we lived in and rudely asked ‘Where are the Christian?’ They checked our arms for the tattooed crosses Copts usually have on their wrists; it was obvious they had been tipped off of our presence by our neighbours. They took all the money we had and our mobile phones. They took us down to the street where a Libyan neighbour attempted to stop them but they beat him up. It was then that I was able to escape and ran up to the roof. They searched for me but didn’t find me, so they took the other seven away in two vehicles. I ran off to the home of another of our relatives in a nearby district. The following day I heard on TV news that the seven had been killed and their dead bodies found on the shore at Garoutha, Benghazi. I rushed to where it was reported that the bodies had been moved. They had been shot in the mouth, head and chest”.
Nash’at said the armed gang had targeted the Christians alone from among the more than 190 persons living in the same building.
“Their blood cries out for justice”
Anba Bakhoum, Bishop of Sohag; Anba Psada, Bishop of Akhmim; and Anba Mercurius, Bishop of Gerga presided over the funeral service of the seven Copts in Sohag on Wednesday 26 February. “We trust that Heaven will never forsake the victims whose blood cries out for justice,” Anba Bakhoum said.
Egyptians had nothing but condemnation and denunciation. The Coptic Churches in Egypt, Al-Azhar, Beit al-Eila al-Misriya, political parties, and rights NGOs all issued statements condemning the incident and stressing that it was the responsibility of the Egyptian government to protect Egyptians outside Egypt and to demand that justice should be served.
Some 21 Coptic organisations issued a joint statement where they stated that this incident is an obvious case of killing on identity. It is a crime against humanity and the terrorists who committed it and the Libyan authority bear the responsibility. It decried what it called the systematic targeting of Copts in Libya by Islamist jihadi groups that ally with similar groups in Egypt since the fall of Gaddafi regime without any action by the Egyptian State.
Islamist crimes in Libya
Since the February 2011 revolution in Libya which led to the downfall of Gaddafi and his regime; Libya became a field of conflict between a number of tribes and armed groups. Benghazi came under the control of the Ansar al-Sharia Brigades who are under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda groups. Supplies of arms inundate the city; the Libyan interim government was unable to control it. Egyptians and non-Muslim foreigners were targeted, especially the Copts who were killed, detained and kidnapped, and Egyptian churches were attacked and closed.
On 30 December 2012 Islamists bombed the service building of the Mar-Girgis Coptic Orthodox Church in Misrata; two Copts lost their lives: Wagdy Malak Hanna, 40, from Samalout, Minya; and Ashraf Sami Adli, 26, from Alexandria; and three others were injured.
In February 2013 the Coptic church in Benghazi was set on fire. The priest was kidnapped and had his beard shaved off; he was released two days later and returned to Egypt. To date the church is still closed.
In March 2013 the targeting of Copts escalated. The Islamists stopped vehicles heading to Egypt, checked their IDs and detained the Copts in camps where they were mistreated, their hair shaved, tortured and compelled into forced labour. They were pressured to convert to Islam. Under these conditions, the 46-year-old Ezzat Hakim from Assuit died. Fifty Copts were detained for more than two months; they were only released upon the intervention of Salafi Sheikhs.
Last September two Copts Waleed Saad Shaker, 22, from Beni Sweif and Nash’at Shenouda, 27, from Minya were killed by the Islamists in Libya. Police investigations revealed that another Copt, the 30-year-old Tamer Saad Ishaq from Fayoum had been killed in the same way two weeks earlier.
Last month five Egyptian diplomats were kidnapped to pressure the Egyptian government to release Sheikh Shabaan Hadiya aka Sheikh Abu Ebeida who was accused of taking part in bombings in Egypt. A deal was reached, and the Egyptian diplomats came home when the Libyan sheikh was freed. Egypt withdrew its diplomatic mission from Libya.
Place of armed conflict
The terrorist attack against the US Embassy in Benghazi during which US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed is still fresh in mind. The British government accordingly classified Ansar al-Sharia Brigades as a terrorist organisation.
Anba Pachomeus, Archbishop of Beheira and Pentapolis—a parish which stretches as far west as Libya—said that the Coptic Church in Libya had never been attacked for over 40 years, until Libya turned to a place of armed conflict after the February 2011 revolution.
28 February 2014