The Western Desert Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor has celebrated the arbaeen of seven Coptic pilgrims shot to death on 2 November 2018 on the road to the monastery. Daesh (Islamic State IS) claimed responsibility for the shooting.
Arbaeen is literal for ‘forty’ in Egyptian, and denotes the passage of forty days since the death of a person; Egyptians observe the date in a tradition that goes back to ancient Egypt and was related to the process of mummification.
On 2 November, masked assailants in a four-wheel drive vehicle shot at a bus carrying Coptic pilgrims who had visited the monastery of Anba Samueel al-Muetarrif (St Samuel the Confessor) in the Minya region of the Western Desert, some 200km southwest Cairo. Seven Copts lost their lives, and another 18 were injured.
The Coptic Church in Minya, where the martyrs came from, had celebrated Arbaeen Mass for their souls Saturday 8 December, with Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, presiding over Mass at the church of al-Amir Tadros in Minya. But the monastery held its celebration of Arbaeen a week later.
The monks, families of the deceased, friends, and local politicians gathered on the unpaved road that leads to the monastery, at the spot where the victims were martyred. Holding banners carrying photographs of the martyrs, the group sang hymns and praises to commemorate the occasion, then headed to the monastery church for Mass. Anba Basilios, Abbot of St Samuel’s, officiated.
Security, military and air forces applied exceptional measures to secure the road and allowed the monastery to open its doors to the visitors for the day, to mark the occasion.
This is not the first shooting during which IS targeted Coptic pilgrims to the monastery at the same spot. A similar shooting had occurred in May 2017 and claimed the lives of 28 victims.
Security authorities claim the terrain is almost impossible to secure on a permanent basis, and requires military and Air Force participation on account of its rugged cave territory and absence of communication network. They accordingly issued warnings to visitors against venturing on the road. When visitors did not heed the warning, the security authorities closed the monastery to visitors.
Copts have protested the closure, claiming that it was the responsibility of security authorities to secure the road. Together with St Samuel’s monks, they have been demanding that the road should be paved and provided with light posts and telecommunication facilities. The monks recently held a protest stand against closing the road, claiming that the closure hampered the arrival of basic supplies to the monastery. Minya authorities promised to allow in any vehicles carrying supplies.
On 8 December 2018 the Interior Ministry announced its security forces had killed two terrorists involved in the shooting. A statement issued by the Interior Ministry on 3 November 2018, two days after the second shooting, informed that the police had raided a hideout of IS terrorists in mountain caves west of Minya, among them a number involved in the St Samuel Monastery operation, leaving 19 dead.
The 8 December operation, the Interior Ministry said, was a follow-up to the previous one. Using as a lead mobile phones the terrorists had prised off their victims, the Ministry apparatuses were able to track a terrorist hideout in the mountains west of Upper Egypt’s Assiut region, some 350km south of Cairo, near the area of Dashlout-Farafra. Interior Ministry forces, in coordination with Egypt’s Armed Forces, raided the area and killed two others of the terrorists; they went by the code names as Abo-Mosaab and Abo-Saheeb. Security forces found on site three automatic rifles and a large quantity of different caliber bullets. The forces also seized a vehicle that belonged to the terrorists and the mobile phone that belonged to one of the Coptic martyrs, Kamal Youssef Shehata.
Watani’s coverage of the terror incident:
17 December 2018