By Todd Daniels, with ICC’s Egypt Representative
12/29/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Last week, Magdy Sobhy Tawfiq, Sahar Talaat Rizk, and their 13-year-old daughter Catherine were brutally murdered in Sirte, Libya, where the family has lived since 2001. Magdy was a medical doctor working in the Jarf Health Center in Sirte and Sahar was a pharmacist.
Magdy and Sahar were murdered in the early morning hours of Tuesday, December 23 at the doctor’s housing complex where the Coptic Christian family lived with Catherine (13) and two younger daughters (Age 10 and Age 9). Catherine was taken from the family’s home and her body was found in the desert outside the city on Thursday, December 25.
Militant Threats and Attempts to Leave
The young couple moved to Libya in 2001, just shortly after they were married on July 20, 2000. Magdy worked for two years at a Diabetes Clinic in Sirte before transferring to the Jarf Health Center, Tamer Talaat Rizk, Sahar’s brother told International Christian Concern.
“I stayed with them for 2 years in Sirte before I returned back to Egypt,” Tamer told ICC. “During my stay with them there I noticed that Doctor Magdy was serving all the people there and he was beloved from the all. For free he would help explain difficult lectures to students who were studying in the faculty of Medicine in Site. He was a very kind and respected man,” Tamer recalled.
The family had been attempting for months to find a way to leave the country, but had been delayed in getting the necessary paperwork.
Magdy felt the family was in danger but the management of his work didn’t give him his passport his contract was not yet finished. “He also asked the Libyan authorities and representative of the Egyptian foreign ministry in Misrata, Libya to protect him and help him to return back to Egypt,” Tamer told ICC. “But the officials told him, ‘Sorry we can not do any thing for you.’ And they advised him not to leave Libya these days because all the ways to travel are unsafe and his life and his family’s lives will be endangered if they travel by his private car,” Tamer said.
“On Monday, December 22, at 6:30 pm, Sahar called my mother and told her that they are working to finish the paperwork needed to travel to Egypt and they will leave soon, because their lives became unsafe in Libya,” Michael Talaat Rizk, another of Sahar’s brothers, told ICC.
The family was growing increasingly concerned for their safety “especially after their oldest daughter Catherine was threatened with death if she did not wear a veil,” Michael said. “Some Islamic Militants belonging to the Ansar Al-Sharia extremist group demanded that Catherine not go out from her home without wearing the veil and threatened her that they are going to kill her if she did not wear a veil,” he continued.
A Violent Attack at Dawn
“At 4:00 am on Tuesday, December 23, Doctor Magdy woke up to the knock on the door of the housing building,” Samir Sobhy Tawfiq, Magdy’s brother told ICC. “He likely thought that there was a patient with an urgent case and was in need his help, but after opening the door, he found some armed masked men, they attacked him and handcuffed him, put him into a chair,” he continued.
Samir, a doctor in Tanta, Egypt, was told the details of the incident by his brother Maged who works in Tripoli, Libya and traveled to Sirte to care for the two youngest daughters who were eyewitnesses to the incident and met with officials following the initial investigation.
Sahar pleaded with the men to take the family’s money (6,000 Libyan dinar or $4,500 USD) and jewelry and leave them alive, but money was not the reason they had come. Sahar then ran into the room to protect the three girls, Samir told ICC.
“They then entered the children’s room and shot and killed Sahar there. Then they abducted Catherine, leaving the other two children behind. They also dragged Magdy outside and shot and killed him in front of the door of the Health Unit. They put Catherine into their car and fled,” Samir recounted to ICC.
Magdy was found still handcuffed after he’d been shot and killed.
The attack was clearly not a robbery and was likely motivated by religion, local council chairman Yussef Tebeiqa said.
“Money left on the table and the wife’s jewelry left at the crime scene were not touched,” he added in a statement quoted by AFP.
Catherine was found in the Libyan Desert on Thursday, December 25, Samir told ICC. “She was shot three times, twice in the head and once in the chest,” he said.
Mourning and Reaction to the Attack
“The motive of killing them was sectarian,” Michael, Sahar’s brother said. “Those Militants targeted them because they are Christians, they killed them because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Michael continued, “My sister, her husband, and their daughter Catherine were martyred on the Name of Jesus Christ and that is the only thing that comforts us. We are sure that they are in the Heaven now because they kept the faith and didn’t deny the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This latest incident again highlights the increasing across Libya, and often times Christians have faced explicit targeting from militant Islamist groups, as ICC has documented throughout 2014.
The same day as this attack, the United Nations issued a report documenting the human rights abuses and volatile security situation in Libya. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya issued a statement condemning the attacks.
“These heinous murders, apparently committed for religious motives by unidentified gunmen, are totally rejected by the Libyan people and are alien to their tradition of tolerance towards religious minorities and hospitality extended to foreign guests,” the Mission said in a statement issued Wednesday, December 24.
Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based advocacy group said, “The victims were killed simply because of their religious identity, which constitutes a crime against humanity.”
Fady Youssef, founder of Coalition of Coptic Egypt, also condemned the attacks and called for the Egyptian government to take decisive action to protect Egyptians in Libya in an interview with ICC.
“I condemn the brutal crime of killing the Coptic family in Libya, and I charge the responsibility of killing these family on the Egyptian Government. I accuse the Egyptian Government of passiveness, inaction, indifference and disregard for the rights of Egyptians abroad, particularly in Libya,” Youssef said.
Tamer, Sahar’s brother, also urged for government officials to apprehend those responsible, but also was encouraged by his faith.
“I urge the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to demand the Libyan authorities to quickly investigate into this brutal crime and arrest the killers quickly and bring them to the justice,” he said. ”But I ask God to bring the rights of the Martyrs. I trust Him, He is a just God,” Tamer concluded.
Magad, Magdy’s brother has finalized the paperwork necessary to return the bodies to Egypt, Samir told ICC. “We await their arrival on Tuesday, December 30, and the prayer service for them will be held in the Mar Girgis church, Abu Naga, Tanta.”
As Libya, continues to be torn apart by militant Islamist groups fighting, it is not just about claims of power, but also imposing their religious ideology and driving out or killing those who do not conform to their dictates.