16 January 2011
The town of Samalout in Minya, Upper Egypt, witnessed a tragic incident last Tuesday evening when Amer Ashour Abdel-Zaher, a policeman in his thirties, shot six Coptic passengers on the train heading to Cairo. Fathy Saad Mossaad Ghobrial, 71, from Zaitoun, Cairo, was killed. His wife Emily Hanna, 61, suffered injuries that required her to undergo surgery to remove the left kidney, the spleen, and part of the colon. A bullet landed in the liver of Sabah Soliman, 52, who then had to undergo complicated surgery. Until Watani International went to press both women lay in hospital in critical conditions. Maggie Nabil, 23, was shot in the chest and leg; Marianne Nabil, 25, in the shoulder; and Ihab Ashraf, 26, in the left forearm. Soliman is the mother of the Nabil girls, and Ashraf is Maggie’s fiancé. At the order of Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali, the victims were moved by flying ambulance to the Nasser Institute Hospital in Cairo for expert treatment.
The Assiut-Cairo train had travelled some 35km north of Minya and had reached Samalout when the shooting occurred. The injured told Watani that they were in their seats when Abdel-Zaher, who was in plain clothes and was walking around the carriage, headed towards them. They were the only party on the carriage which included women who, being non-Muslim, were not veiled and wore crosses. Abdel-Zaher pointed his gun at them and shot as he shouted the Islamic testimony “There is no god but Allah”. The girls## father, who sat in a seat a little further along the aisle, and other passengers hastened to catch Abdel-Zaher, but he managed to flee leaving his gun. It was this gun, being a police-registered weapon, which led to the identification of the killer who was caught later in the evening. Investigations are ongoing.
The carriage which was the scene of the crime was separated from the train and investigations directly began. The six Copts were moved to the Good Shepherd Hospital—owned and operated by Samalout bishopric—in Samalout.
As word of the shooting got around, as many as some 1000 Coptic youth headed to the hospital on the pretext of donating blood. Fearing the eruption of violence, the security forces attempted to disperse the crowd, upon which the young men protested in anger at Samalout bishopric which is adjacent to the hospital. Father Stephanous of the bishopric told Watani that a group of Muslims demonstrated against the Copts and hurled stones at them. The security men used tear gas and clubs to disperse them. In the process, the hospital’s ambulance car was damaged.
Minya governor Ahmed Diaa’ Eddin declared that Abdel-Zaher was psychologically unbalanced, had been tried before in several cases, and had been disturbed before the shooting. A security source said the policeman worked at Beni-Mazar police station and had domestic problems; “before the shooting, he had just had a fight with his wife,” the source said.
For his part, Father Stephanous voiced doubts at the official explanation. “How can a psychologically disturbed person be placed on duty and allowed to carry a gun?” he said. “Why should he say the Islamic testimony before shooting? And why should he pick Christian victims?”
Anba Makarius, bishop-general in Minya, visited the wounded in the hospital. Pope Shenouda III, who is in Cleveland for medical treatment, was informed of the incident. He ordered a medical team in Cairo to follow up on their health and treatment, and sent words of comfort to the victims. His Holiness is closely following up on the matter.