At least six Coptic Christians wounded as armed mob storms church in Al-Our village, home to 13 of the martyrs executed by ISIS in Libya
by Todd Daniels, with ICC’s Egypt Representative
03/29/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – As the country prepared to mark the fortieth day since the release of a video showing the execution of 21 Christians by ISIS jihadists in Libya, the home village of 13 of the 20 Egyptian martyrs was again the focus of Islamic extremists.
At least six cars from a surrounding village carrying more than twenty armed men arrived in Al-Our village as dark started to settle over the village of 5,000. These men joined joined a crowd of more than 100 locals from Al-Our and made their way to Virgin Mary Church, currently the only church for the towns nearly 2,500 Christians.
“At 8 pm, a group of armed Muslim young men in six or seven cars from nearby villages stormed our village. Many Muslim fanatic young men joined those who came from the other nearby villages and attacked the church,” Milad Nageh, of Al-Our told International Christian Concern (ICC).
“They shot guns at the church and pelted the church with stones and blocks,” Milad said. “They smashed the sign of the church, destroying the ground of the church yard and breaking the widows of the service buildings of the church. They also burned a car that was parked in the front of the church.”
It was not only those who came from the other villages, but many of the Muslims from Al-Our were involved as well. “The Muslims whose homes surrounded the church were throwing stones at the church from the roofs of their homes,” Milad said.
“This attack on the church was arranged before because a truck loaded with cement blocks had unloaded all of their blocks in the front of a Muslim home nearby the church two days ago,” Milad told ICC on Saturday morning, March 28, from inside the Virgin Mary church. He and others from the church stayed awake all Friday night to help protect the church in case there was another attack.
“We thought that these blocks would be used in construction of a building belonging to the owner of this home, but these blocks were prepared to attack the church,” Milad said.
Calls for Protection Went Unanswered
Church leaders were concerned after hearing threats that there would be protests from Muslims on Friday.
Fr. Makar Issa, the priest of The Virgin Mary Church in Al-Our village told ICC, “On Thursday evening, March 26, I was informed that the next day, Friday there will be Islamic demonstrations in the village against us.”
At the Mass on Friday morning, “Bishop Raphael who came from Cairo to take part in the prayer of the memorial of 40th day of our martyrs informed that some Muslims from the village and the other nearby villages will organize march in our village after their Friday noon prayer,” Milad said. “They were protesting the building of a new church and they intend to attack the Christians and the church.”
Fr. Makar asked the community not deal with the demonstrators during their march in the streets of the village even if they tried to provoke, and asked the youth to remain in the church to protect it from any attack.
“I called the police many times and asked them to come to guard us but they came late and after their arrival they didn’t guard the church. They stopped in the entrance of the village. Even still they allowed the cars of the attackers to enter the village and attack us and the church without any intervention from them to protect us,” Fr. Makar said.
“I charge the responsibility of what happened to the policemen,” Fr. Makar Issa continued, “and I accuse them accuse them of inaction, indifference and complicity.”
At least six Christians were wounded by the attackers, three of them suffering serious injuries.
Martyrs’ Families Attacked Again
On Friday, March 27 the Virgin Mary Church in Al-Our held a mass to commemorate the Arbaieen, marking 40 days since the release of the video showing the beheading of the 21 Christians in Egypt. A larger service was to be held in Samalout city on Saturday, March 28.
13 of the 21 martyrs were from Al-Our village. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had declared that a church would be built in the village to commemorate them, but, as Ishak Ibrahim documents, even this had sparked a reaction of protest from some Egyptians.
This overflowed on Friday, following the afternoon prayers at the mosques in the village. Demonstrators made their way through the streets chanting slogans against the church.
They were chanting things like “Islamic, Islamic” and “By no means, no church will be built on this ground,” and “We will make the church on the ground,” Milad told ICC.
They also made their way to the home Samuel Alham Wilson, one of the martyrs, and pelted it with stones and rocks.
Bebawy Alham Wilson, the brother of the Martyr Samuel Alham Wilson, told ICC, “After the Muslim Friday noon prayers some Muslim young men attacked our home which located in the entrance of the village. During their march while I was alone in the home with the my wife, wives of my brothers, and my mother. My brothers were in the church at this time. The attackers attempted to storm my home, I hurried and locked the door and barred it. They then hurled stones at my home.”
After more than two hours of protesting and assaulting the Wilson home, three police cars arrived and deployed in the entrance of the village. “They set up in the front of the mosque of the village, not even going to guard the church,” Milad told ICC.
Then when more rioters came in the evening, the police again did almost nothing to prevent the attacks on the church, only after much of the damage had taken place did the disperse the crowd.
“There is a situation of panic and fear among all of us here. We are afraid that more violent attacks will occur against us and the church after the departure of the security forces who are deployed across the village now,” Malak Nageh Ishack, a resident in the village told ICC.
“We gave the security forces names of 100 Muslim young men from the village who took part in attacking the church, but police men arrested only five of them and the rest of them are free,” he said.
“The police asked us to stay in our homes, leaving the Muslim attackers free walking in the village streets,” Malak said, “plus we have received threats from the Muslims that they will attack us again after the security forces leave the village.”
On Saturday, the diocese of Samalout held a large memorial service, presided over by Bishop Anba of Samalout and attended by many of the local leaders. The hall of the church was packed and the church yard was full, an estimated 3,000 watching the mass on screen.
Absent, however, were many of the relatives of the 13 martyrs from Al-Our. “I couldn’t go to the Diocese of Samalout to attend the service for the 40th day of the Martyrs,” Beshir Stephanos Kemal, brother of the two martyrs Bishoy and Samuel, told ICC. “I had to stay to protect my home,” he said.
Just 20 or 30 from Al-Our made the trip to Samalout to attend the service, mostly women and children, with the men staying behind fearing there may be more attacks.
Local leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities are to hold customary “reconciliation meetings” to try to stem the tensions that sparked this latest round of violence.
The Sisi government has made declarations to improve the status of Christians in Egypt, but the reality has hardly changed.
For the families of the men martyred in Libya, these attacks serve as yet another reminder that it is not just ISIS abroad, but even in their home village in Egypt they face armed attackers who are hostile to them as Christians and the presence of the church.
For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org
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