Bassem Shehata Haraz, a 27-year-old Copt from the North Sinai town of al-Arish, was shot to death yesterday 13 January in his hometown.
Haraz had left Arish in February 2017 together with members of some 355 Coptic families who fled Arish in the wake of a wave of killings waged against them by Islamist jihadis based in North Sinai. In the space of two weeks, eight Copts had met their death, and there were Islamist threats of more deaths if the Copts remained in town.
Haraz had fled with his [extended] family to the Suez Canal town of Ismailiya, then later moved to Cairo where the Church helped them relocate. When, however, neither he nor his older brother Ussama could find adequate work, they decided to go back to Arish. Finding the town relatively calm after the Egyptian military and police had conducted several strikes against the jihadis, they brought their family home, settled down, and reopened their shop for business. That was some six months ago.
Yesterday, as the two brothers closed their shop and headed home together in the evening with a Muslim friend, they were stopped by three masked men, two carrying automatic rifles and one holding a pistol. They came from behind, and shouted: “Hey there! Stand where you are!” Ussama says they directly stopped; the masked men approached, saw a cross tattooed on Bassem’s wrist, asked if he was Christian, and shot him as soon as he answered that yes, he was. “They didn’t realise that I too am Christian, because my tattoo is higher up my arm. They ordered me and the Muslim man to go away directly, which we did.”
Ussama says that a friend who called Bassem on his mobile phone was answered by a stranger who said he belonged to Ansar Bait al-Maqdes, a terrorist Islamic jihadi group. “Death to Christians!” he said, “it’s your turn next.”
Bassem Haraz is the second Copt to be killed on returning to Arish. The first was Nabil Saber Fawzy, 40, a barber who was killed last May.
14 January 2018