Shooting of Witness Threatens Trial of Coptic Christian’s Murderers

ICC Note: On January 13, Shahid Nesemis Saoufim was shot and killed in the Nag Hassan village in Luxor, Egypt. While another victim of violence against Christians, Shahid’s murder is connected to the trial of those responsible for the murder of four others nearly 18 months earlier.

02/19/2015 Egypt (World Watch Monitor) It’s happening several times a week now, particularly in the towns and villages of Upper Egypt. Just a brief news report, citing an isolated killing here and there of a Coptic Christian by “unknown gunmen.” Another statistic, usually just the name of the Copt, listing his age and his town or village.

But in mid-January, the murder of still another Coptic Christian in Luxor province, 315 miles south of Cairo, has triggered widespread panic among the 4,000 Christians living in the area of Nag Hassan and its surrounding villages.

For 18 months, Nag Hassan’s Christian community has lived under the shadow of the deadly wave of anti-Christian violence following the ouster of Mohammed Morsi. On July 5, 2013, four Coptic men had been killed in Nag Hassan’s al-Dabayia village in a Muslim rampage that left 42 Christian homes and shops badly damaged, burned and looted.

So when Coptic Christian Shahid Nesemis Saroufim was killed in Nag Hassan on Jan. 13, it did not take long to connect the dots, to perhaps understand why.

The previous day, the Luxor Criminal Court had held a conclusive hearing in the months-long trial against accused suspects from the al-Dabayia attack. At the next hearing, to be set sometime in early April, a verdict is expected against the 17 jailed suspects.

Saroufim was a cousin of Emil Naseem Saroufim, one of the four Copts killed in 2013. “My husband was targeted because he was one of the witnesses in the prosecution,” Saroufim’s widow Heba Eskander Farid told World Watch Monitor.

Just 20 days before her husband was killed, relatives of the 17 accused approached Fr. Basilius Naim of the Mar Youhanna Church, asking him to arrange a reconciliation meeting with the families of the four victims, to persuade them to drop the charges.

According to Girguis Noushy Habib, older brother of two of the four victims, the Coptic priest told them, “We can forgive our material damages — destroying, burning, and looting our properties. But we cannot forgive the blood of our four martyrs.”

“We have been threatened with death ever since we testified in the prosecution,” Habib said. “We live in a state of fear and terror, especially now after the latest killing of Shahid. Our lives are in danger. They killed Shahid to terrorize us and pressure us to drop the charges against their relatives.”

Fr. Basilius himself was threatened personally, finally pushing him to leave the village the day after Saroufim’s murder.

Habib said that one of his widowed sisters-in-law was threatened by several men a few days before Saroufim was murdered, while she was buying milk from the village supermarket. “We won’t leave you. What happened to you before will take place [again] soon,” they warned.

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