11 August: torching of church and Coptic homes in al-Diyabiya, northern Beni Soueif governorate
Burnt out Diyaba church
The Church of the Archangel Michael and Father Antonios in the village of al-Diyabiya, located in the al-Wasiti district in the northern part of Beni Soueif governorate, was torched by local Muslims and others from the neighboring villages during attacks on the property of village Copts following a fight between two families, one Christian and the other Muslim, due to a speed bump.
According to statements obtained by the EIPR during a visit to the village by EIPR researchers, the fight erupted at 8 pm, Saturday, 10 August, between the Christian family of Fawzi Abu al-Saad, on one hand, and Muslih Salah Abd al-Fattah and Mohamed Moussa Ibrahim, on the other, both from the Muslim al-Shawahna family, after a member of the Muslim family was driving a tok-tok that was upset by a speed bump installed by the Christian family in front of their home. An argument flared on the spot and a few minutes later members of the Muslim family arrived and fought with the Christian family, during which Maryam Tanios was injured in the hand by a knife. She filed a report at the al-Wasiti police station, appending a medical report from the Wasiti hospital. The officer in charge told her to go to the Wasiti prosecutor’s office the following morning to give a statement, which she did.
On Sunday afternoon, according to Ihab Fawzi, a party to the dispute, the Muslim family “picked a fight,” sending two youths on motorcycles to repeatedly race up and down the street. This prompted a Christian woman to ask them to slow down, whereupon one of the youths cursed her and then members of the Christian family assaulted him, beating and kicking him.
In a matter of minutes, dozens of Muslims from various families assembled and attacked Christian homes, injuring several residents with shotgun fire, while several Christians defended their homes. Muslim witnesses said that Christians used makeshift shotguns to shoot at them while they assembled before the attacks, while Christians say they threw only bricks and stones from the roofs of their homes when Muslims attacking their homes began using shotguns. They added that their was a clear intention to attack them and that as soon as clashes erupted anew, hundreds of Muslims from nearby villages gathered with jerry cans and bottles of gasoline, firearms, bladed weapons and sticks and attacked the houses outside the main gate of the church. They then tried, but failed to storm the church due to presence of numerous Christians behind the gate. After that, the crowd moved to the back of the church and managed to storm it. After running off the church guards, they set fire to the church, which entirely consumed the altar, the baptismal font, storehouse and the adjacent social services building, as well as a shop, a mill and a house.
According to numerous testimonies, including that of one of the church guards and a police captain from the village security force, some Muslims from the family involved in the dispute—Christian eyewitnesses identified them by name—used the village mosque to mobilize crowds.
The guard told the EIPR: “There were three of us guards standing at the church. They [the Muslim assailants] told us to lock the church door and then told us to leave. We spoke to the chief guard and he said to leave. Then they torched the church and the houses around it. Before that, we heard someone at the mosque calling out over the loudspeaker saying, Help, the Nazarenes [a derogatory term for Christians] are beating up Muslims. We told officials what happened.”
The mobs of assailants attacked Christians who fell across their path with sticks and knives, cursing them all the while, and looted some shops and homes before setting them alight. When EIPR researchers visited the home of Said Habib, they saw signs that Molotovs had been thrown in the window of the reception room, where all the furniture was burned.
Habib told EIPR researchers: “As soon as I heard there was a problem, I closed the doors. They banged on the window and threw a Molotov at it. It burned the window and the entry room furniture. They entered the house, grabbed me and threw me in the street then they beat the tar out of me, brandishing switchblades and sticks. I was screaming, I didn’t do anything!”
One local Muslim told the EIPR in an interview at the al-Wasiti police station: “On Sunday at 9 am, the Christians beat up a guy and injured him. The guy was just riding a motorcycle and they beat him really badly. Local residents gathered and went to Amir Street, where the problem was, but the Christians brought out homemade shotguns and shot at Muslims in the street. Events escalated and we fought with each other. People came from outside town because we’re all related. People set fire to the church because the problem wasn’t with one person, many people got involved.”
Although Christian religious leaders contacted police commanders, they arrived three hours after the incident began and did not intervene immediately upon their arrival. Meanwhile Muslim residents prevented ambulances and fire trucks from entering the areas under attack. At 6 pm, security forces managed to bring the clashes under control, firing a single canister of tear gas, according to the testimony of a police officer currently in the village.
EIPR researchers learned that Christian religious leaders in al-Wasiti attempted several times to contact the director of security and the chief of investigations to ask for security reinforcements in the village and rapid intervention, but they did not answer their phones. Christian leaders then contacted security officials at the Ministry of Interior, after which the chief of investigations called them. He stated that they were aware of events and had dispatched a security force to deal with the attacks.
An officer with the force presently in the village said, “The forces were inadequate. We waited for reinforcements because if we went into town, they would clash with us, the whole town in the street. We wouldn’t know what to do with them. They didn’t allow ambulances and fire trucks to enter. Things calmed down at 6. We fired one tear gas canister.”
According to witness statements, the clashes left nine Copts and six Muslims injured, listed below:
1. Maryam Tanios Awad, bruises and minor concussion
2. Hani Asaad Sidqi, shotgun injury in the eye and chest
3. Samir Bibawi Zaki, shotgun injury in the eye and chest
4. Osama Fawzi Abu al-Saad, beaten on the chest with sticks
5. Munir Fawzi Abu al-Saad, shotgun injury in the eye
6. Hani Fawzi Abu al-Saad, shotgun injury in the chest and body
7. Mamdouh Tawfiq, skull lacerations
8. Sidhom Tawfiq, minor concussion
9. Nessim Kamel Said, cut on the forehead
10. Mamdouh Tawfiq
11. Emad Mamdouh Tawfiq
12. Ahmed Shehata
13. Ahmed Ali Salem
14. Sahar Hasan Abd al-Qader
15. Ahmed Abd al-Salam, in critical condition due to a head injury
Some of the wounded were moved to the Qasr al-Aini Hospital for treatment while four were taken to an eye hospital in the governorate of Cairo for surgery.
The Church of the Archangel Michael was burned, as were several Coptic-owned homes and shops, including the following:
- Church of the Archangel Michael and Father Antonios
- Home of the heirs of Hanna Abd al-Malak Hanna
- Christian reception hall in the village
- Nasrallah Abadir’s home
- Rushdi Manqarios’s home
- Nasr Zarif’s home
- Amir Nasrallah’s iron and paint shop
- Farid Magdi’s grocery
- Mansour Abadir’s mill
- Zarif Nasr Zarif’s barbershop
- Fawzi Ayyoub’s motorcycle, torched
- Michael Said’s motorcycle
- Other property was partially burned and destroyed, including the balcony and roof of Farahat Bibawi’s house and the homes of Wahid Fawzi, Said Habib and Zikri Naim.
The press reported that two Muslim-owned houses were torched in the events as well, but when EIPR researchers asked about these in their visit to the village, local residents and police in the village denied it.
Security forces arrested 13 suspects, 7 Muslims and 6 Christians. Father Rizqallah Gouda, the church priest, filed police report no. 22/389/Wasiti police department, which was appended to the original report no. 4359/2013/al-Wasiti administrative. The Public Prosecution surveyed the church on Sunday evening and the burned houses the following day. Judge Mohamed Bassyouni, the public solicitor for Beni Soueif Prosecution Offices, said that the al-Wasiti prosecutor’s office questioned the 13 suspects in the police station for reasons of security. The public solicitor ordered them detained 15 days after charging them with involvement in the events and ordered another 15 injured persons to be questioned, including those in the Wasiti District Hospital, Qasr al-Aini and the Cairo eye hospital, pending approval of the questioning by doctors. They were charged with attempted murder, assembly, arson, thuggery, intimidation and possession of unlicensed firearms after the prosecution questioned them and confronted them with evidence of the charges.
The Christians in custody are Nadi Ghali, Nabil Awad, Milad Nadi, Samir Bibawi and Nessim Kamel; the names of the Muslims in custody could not be ascertained.
A preliminary traditional reconciliation session was convened on Monday evening in the Mar Girgis Church in al-Wasiti, in advance of a broader session, that included Muslim and Christian representatives from the village and the city of al-Wasiti, Father Rizqullah Gouda, the priest of the Church of the Archangel Michael and Father Antonios, and Father Angelios, the priest at the Mar Girgis Church in al-Wasiti. Father Angelios said in an interview at the church that there is no choice but to seek out peace and calm in the current climate, but he stressed the need for frankness and the admission of error first, followed by compensation for affected families and the reconstruction of the church at state expense. He added that rumors that the church is an association where religious rites are practiced are untrue; the church is licensed by presidential decree 196/2006.
Minya governorate: ongoing attacks and harassment of Copts
Since 30 June, Minya has seen ongoing tension, sectarian violence and incitement against Copts in various villages in different districts against the background of widespread Coptic participation in the protests against former president Mohamed Morsy, which culminated in army intervention to depose him. On 1 August, unknown persons distributed a flyer, a copy of which was obtained by EIPR, titled Communique no. 1 from the Nidal Movement (an Islamist movement that rejects secularism). The statement warned that in the event of “any assault of any kind on peaceful sit-ins or peaceful marches, the security directorate, police stations, security personnel and churches and priests will be targeted, and roads and public services cut.”
When asked for his opinion of this worrying development, Dr. Gamal al-Din al-Hilali, the secretary of the Construction and Development Party in Minya, told EIPR, “Sectarianism has been increasing since 30 June and continues. If the Islamist sit-in in Rabaa is dispersed, it will increase further and we don’t know what people taking part will do when they return home. People here saw the Nazarenes take part in demonstrations, and that had an impact on Muslims. They’re saying that the Nazarenes are the basis of the strife. Also, the foolish behavior of Tawadros [the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the Holy See of St. Mark], congratulating the army after the demonstrations giving a mandate to kill on 26 July, indicates that the Nazarene pope was inciting to killing.”
EIPR researchers investigated the circumstance and details of these attacks, as follows:
3 August 2013: events in East Beni Ahmed and neighboring villages
The village of East Beni Ahmed, located 5 km south of Minya City, saw sectarian clashes and assaults following a fight between supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsy and local Copts, which left one dead, several injured and Coptic homes and property looted and torched; a church and mosque minaret sustained minor damage.
According to statements from both sides, sectarian tension had been running high in the Christian-majority village since 30 June, after Christians took part in protests against the former president and in light of marches by Islamist supporters—most of whom, evidence suggests, come from outside the village—decrying Morsy’s ouster and defaming Christian spiritual leaders and symbols.
Dr. Gamal al-Din al-Hilali said in his testimony, “There have been disputes in the village for 15 days. The Christians took part in the events of 30 June, and there were some quick skirmishes with Muslims and then it passed. Actually, there is bitterness. In some villages there were attacks. We’re trying to calm things down, but the bitterness and tension is there in people’s hearts. People here saw the Nazarenes get together six microbuses of people to take part in the demonstrations in Minya. That had an emotional effect on Muslims. They’re saying that the Nazarenes are the basis of the strife.”
In this charged atmosphere, cars with megaphones attached roamed the streets of the village on Friday, 26 July, known as “mandate Friday,” repeating Islamist chants and defaming Christian symbols. In the wake of this, a fight erupted between a Christian and Muslim in the village, after which a police report was filed in the Minya police station. The two parties reconciled before the prosecution.
Haggag Yousef, a resident of the village, said, “Fifteen cars came from outside of town spreading filthy insults and there was a fight between Ayman Farag, a Christian, and Ibrahim Asi, a Muslim, because of it. They hit each other, but really the Christian hit harder. People intervened, and the Christian made nice then they reconciled and that was the end of the problem. But after the fast was broken, the Muslim got his family together and they went to the Christian’s house and beat him and his wife with iron and clubs. The police came and filed a report, and at the prosecution’s office they reconciled and left. Then the Christian’s wife filed a police report for a restraining order and that made the Muslims angry.”
On Saturday afternoon, 3 August, a fight broke out between Sherif Abd al-Meneim and Hanna Dos Fahmi over a song in the coffee shop owned by a village Muslim: the Muslim citizen wanted to play the song “Islamic, Islamic” in support of the deposed president while the Christian objected, asking for the song “Bless the Hands,” which lauds military intervention to remove Morsy. The fight ended after several locals intervened.
But the climate in the village was further charged that evening when dozens of Muslims gathered after the evening prayer to declare their rejection of the incident. The events soon devolved into a clash, starting with the exchange of stones between the two sides and later Molotovs and shotgun fire. Some statements obtained by the EIPR claimed that village Muslims intended to attack from the beginning.
One eyewitness said, “The whole thing was planned, figured out and readied before all that. As soon as they finished the evening prayer, we found hundreds of people carrying homemade swords, knives, axes and bottles with gasoline in them. We ran and formed a cordon around the church and prevented them from reaching it. By then, some of them were already looting and robbing houses close to the road. After ransacking them, they would throw in some gasoline and torch them. Nearly all the homes of Christians near the entrance to town had their doors and windows broken and were looted, and they torched cars and tractors.”
Said Nafaa, a correspondent with al-Masry al-Youm in Minya told an EIPR researcher on the phone that some local Muslims told him during his visit to the village the next day that Muslims went to Christian homes right after the evening prayer. Imagining they were coming to attack them, Christians locked their doors and then a fight erupted during which shotguns and Molotovs were used.
Ahmed Hassan, a former member of the dissolved People’s Assembly for the Nour Party, told EIPR a version of events that differed from both eyewitness testimony and media reports: “During the night prayer in the village mosque, a Christian started playing that Sisi song, which upset the worshippers. They went out to rebuke the Nazarenes and there was an argument. Security intervened and that was that. It was rumors that escalated the whole thing, and that’s a mistake from both sides. If one person had apologized to the other, the whole matter would have been dropped from the beginning.”
In the meantime, rumors spread that a Christian from East Beni Ahmed had torched the Firdaws Mosque. Cars with megaphones roamed the streets of neighboring villages calling on people to come out to support their brothers in Islam, who were being killed in Beni Ahmed. Dozens of vehicles brought in Muslims from the villages of al-Awwam, Beni Mahdi, Abu Tallawi, al-Abaadiya, West Beni Ahmed, Reida and al-Hawsaliya.
A resident of nearby West Beni Ahmed said, “Dozens of people were wandering the streets calling on people in their homes to go to East Beni Ahmed. They were saying, Your Muslim brothers are dying, help them, the Christians burned the mosque. What are you waiting for? Those with swords, shotguns or axes should come down. More than eight vehicles were transporting people. We were terrified sitting in our homes and couldn’t move. Everyone, young and old, was terrified.”
According to one victim, the crowd attacked the home of Magdi Youssef and looted and torched a electrical goods store below it before setting fire to parts of the house itself; the family fled through the back door, which overlooks a plot of agricultural land. The same mob then attacked the supermarket of Sami Karam and Magdi George’s pharmacy before setting fire to them both. They stormed the home of the widow Yassi Hanna; the elderly widow, her daughter and son-in-law were present during the attacks and jumped out from the second floor. The crowds then attacked Christian property at the entrance to the village all the way to the area where the Church of the Virgin and the Firdaws Mosque are located. Here they looted and torched several Coptic-owned businesses and threw Molotovs at the church and the Mahabba Clinic, but they did not manage to storm them, numerous Copts having assembled to defend them.
Magdi Youssef said in his statement, “Cars carrying bearded people from outside the village came and attacked my house at the edge of town. When I heard gunfire, I blocked the door with wood so it wouldn’t open easily. They broke down the door of my electrical goods store and robbed and torched it then they started breaking down the door to the house, so we fled from the back door and ran while they were throwing bricks and Molotovs at us.”
As soon as the events began, church leaders and some citizens called the police and army asking for them to quickly dispatch security forces to protect them. A police force—inadequate for the number of people involved in clashes—arrived three hours later, headed by Ahmed al-Sawi, an investigator with the Minya police station, although it takes less than ten minutes to reach Minya City from the village. Security forces stood at the village entrance to block the road and prevent others from coming from nearby villages, some of whom entered from the opposite side of town.
According to a statement issued by Father Makarios, the bishop of Minya, “The violence began at 8 o’clock. After intense contact with all security bodies in Minya and Cairo, a token security force arrived outside the village at 10. They were only able to enter at 11:30. When other youths from West Beni Ahmed tried to storm the village, security stopped them.”
At about 11 pm, security reinforcements arrived and began entering the church area, which was witnessing skirmishes, and attempted to disperse demonstrators using tear gas. In the meantime, some of the assailants climbed on area rooftops and began shooting toward the assembled Christians. According to unverified testimonies, some people climbed to the top of the mosque next to the church and the Islamic Association and shot at the assembled Christians and the church. They also opened fire from the roofs of the homes of the former chief village guard Khallaf Abd al-Hamid, Hamada Khamis, Ahmed Khamis, guard Rifai Hamada and Mostafa Sayyed with the Freedom and Justice Party.
Eyewitnesses said that the looting continued despite the police presence in the streets. The assailants moved freely on the streets while the security forces asked Christians to go home and stay there. The clashes continued until an army force arrived and, with the police, managed to take control of the situation at 2 am on Sunday.
During the clashes a delegation from al-Gamaa al-Islamiya (GI) was present, which included, most prominently, Sheikh Ragab Hassan, the GI officer for Minya, and Gamal al-Din al-Hilali, the secretary of the Construction and Development Party in Minya. Al-Hilali said, “Some of the brethren informed me that there was a dispute between Muslims and Christians in East Beni Ahmed. I went with Sheikh Ragab Hassan and other sheikhs at about 11 pm. We had heard the rumor that the village mosque was torched and two Muslims were killed. We ascertained that the news was incorrect, that the mosque did not burn and that the church was fine and undamaged. We began persuading youth from the neighboring villages to go home, telling them that the news was rumors. One group was unconvinced and we took them to the mosque to see that it was fine. We convinced the people from West Beni Ahmed that the mosque was secure and that we were certain that security would intervene if there were any assault on it. At that time, security had set up a barrier to separate East Beni Ahmed from West Beni Ahmed. We asked that people be allowed to cross it to return to their village. When the rumors spread, the mob took control of the situation. Security dealt with the events with professionalism. If they had arrested anyone, things would’ve escalated. Security was happy when they saw us resolving the problem. We managed to get people from other villages out, and Islamists worked to calm the zealous crowds.”
The events left Coptic homes and property damaged, as follows, according to several witnesses:
- Home of Adel Shehata Mitri, his pickup and trailer, torched
- Home of the widow Yassi Hanna Rizq, looted and completely burned
- Home of Girgis Youssef Wahbi, partially burned; his electrical supplies store, looted
- Home of Sami Karam torched; his supermarket on the first floor, burned and looted
- Home of William Karam Saleh and his furniture shop, looted and destroyed; his tractor and trailer, torched
- Home of Nagah Karas, contents destroyed
- Pharmacy of Magdi Maurice, looted and destroyed
- Car accessories shop of Mamdouh Faragallah, brother of the village priest, looted and torched
- Nazih Sherubim’s paint and iron shop, looted and torched
- Asaad Sherubim’s clothing shop, looted and torched
- Electronics shop of Affaf Youssef Nahb, looted and torched
- Car parts and tire shop of Wael Kamel Nashed, looted and torched
- Motorcycle accessories shop of Mahrous Ramzi, looted
- Ashraf Bishri’s oil and lube shop, looted and torched
- Reda Saad’s motorcycle spare parts shop, looted and torched
- Tour bus owned by Adel Ezzat, torched
- Shahine taxi owned by Naser Siddiq Sadeq, torched
- Two dump trucks owned by Raed Rafiq Boutros and the Two R Company, operated by Copts Maged Farouq and Hani Samir, torched
- Ishaq Fanous’s restaurant, looted and destroyed
- Frozen meat shop owned by Hani Fanous, looted and destroyed
- Boulos Youssef Shaker’s barbershop, burned to the ground
The Minya and Abu Qurqas Bishopric issued a statement on 3 August itemizing the damages: 43 citizens had their homes, shops and/or vehicles looted and/or torched.
According the media reports, confirmed for the EIPR by the al-Masry al-Youm correspondent, 18 people were injured, among them police officer Ahmed al-Sawi, who sustained a shotgun injury to his hand, two conscripts and 15 citizens from both sides, who sustained injuries ranging from asphyxiation to shotgun wounds. Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, 30, from al-Mutahira village in the Abu Qurqas district, was killed; he was found on the road linking Reida and Beni Ahmed. He died after being admitted to the hospital, while all other injured persons were released from the hospital after treatment.
Citizens from both sides filed 24 complaints. The prosecution took the statements of several complainants, who identified by name persons involved in the events. The prosecution also surveyed the incident sites and took the statements of the wounded, after which it issued arrest warrants for 35 suspects. According to a statement issued by the Public Prosecution, Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat ordered 11 suspects from both sides detained for 15 days pending investigations on charges of murder, attempted murder with intent to terrorize, thuggery and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.
Six Muslims are held as suspects in the case: Sherif Abd al-Meneim Radi (the prime suspect), his father, Salama Bakri Fikri, Mohamed Zeinhom Radi, Mohamed Ali Mahmoud and Nasser Sayyed Eissa.
Five Christians are also held as suspects: Morqos Dos Fahmi aka Hanna (the prime suspect), his brother Girgis, Hishmat Shehata, Girgis Faragallah Masoud and Girgis Dos Fahmi.
On Sunday, 11 August, a traditional reconciliation session was held in the home of Alaa al-Sabii, former People’s Assembly member for the dissolved National Democratic Party. It was attended by Maj. Gen. Osama Deif, the secretary-general for the governorate, and representatives from five villages—East Beni Ahmed, West Beni Ahmed, Reida, al-Orban and al-Awwam—as well as religious and executive leaders in the governorate. The arbitration committee was comprised of seven people, five of them affiliated with the GI: Sheikh Osman al-Simman, a GI leader; preacher Ragab Hassan, a GI official in Minya; and Dr. Gamal al-Hilali, the secretary-general of the Construction and Development Party, as well as engineer Ismail Ahmed, Alaa Saber, Hagg Awwad Aqila and Hagg Ali Mohamed Younes. Several local residents represented each party. The terms of the reconciliation were as follows:
- Accept the arbitration committee.
- Withdraw all cases brought before the courts and police stations.
- A penalty of LE2 million to be levied on anyone who attacks another; penalty to be applied by the arbitration committee based on witness statements or oath.
- Any person who causes strife among residents of one town will be forced to leave, with the consent of both sides and after consulting the arbitration committee for a judgment.
- Formation of a committee comprised of eight village residents to stifle any strife should it arise.
- Houses of worship, both mosques and churches, to be a red line, removed from any fights and strife.
- The reconciliation is deemed necessary in view of old disputes, in order to turn a new page.
The Minya governorate issued a statement after the session saying that the governorate secretary-general managed to defuse the strife. This angered the GI in Minya, which in turn issued a statement saying that the group “intervened in the reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in the village of Beni Ahmed and was able to defuse the strife and achieve reconciliation in cooperation with sincere residents of the village and nearby villages. Executive leaders and others played no notable role in the matter, in contrast to the claims of their statement. We had hoped that this could take place within a national framework, far removed from personal interests, and were shocked by the statement declaring that ‘the executive agencies in the Minya governorate, led by Maj. Gen. Osama Deif, the secretary-general of the Minya governorate, in conjunction with the security apparatus, reconciliation committees, prominent families and Islamic and Christian clerics, managed to convene a final reconciliation between Muslims and Copts in the village of East Beni Ahmed in the Minya governorate following the violence seen in the village over the last week,’ for this was not the case.”
Christians harmed in the events criticized the outcome of the reconciliation, saying they did not attend. Armanios al-Minyawi, a member of the sectarian crisis-management committee formed by the Minya Bishopric to deal with these events, said that Copts came under pressure, and the fear of renewed attacks in light of ongoing threats led them to accept the outcome of the reconciliation, despite the injustice it entailed for the victims.
Father Makarios, the bishop of Minya and Abu Qurqas, also criticized the outcome in statements given to al-Ahram online on 12 August, stating that the reconciliation terms included no guarantees or compensation. He added that he was “sympathetic to those who were upset. When a widow takes out a loan to start a business to earn a livelihood and loses it or a person loses his home, it creates feelings of oppression and injustice to lose everything and accept the reconciliation without a price, guarantees or conditions. This places a burden on state agencies that are absent from the scene. Where is security, the law and state institutions?”
3 August: attacks in the villages of Reida and West Beni Ahmed
The Minya and Abu Qurqas Bishopric noted in an official statement that in tandem with the events in East Beni Ahmed, there were attacks in other villages: “In West Beni Ahmed, located on the other side of the village, some 2,000 youths from nearby towns like Tahnasha, Hayy Abu Hilal, Dimshaw Hashem and Reida, assembled in Cross Square carrying sticks, Molotovs and weapons. This continued until 1 am. The home and store of one person was attacked, with the front windows smashed. The assailants also attempted to storm the Rasouliya church in town, but some prominent locals prevented this. In the morning, they assembled with sticks to prevent Copts from entering the church for Sunday mass.”
In Reida, near the scene of events, groups of young people fired randomly in the air from rooftops from 8 pm to 11 pm. When passing by Coptic homes, they smashed doors and windows, also smashing the windows of the town’s evangelical church; the Rasouliya Church was pelted with stones. The same group also smashed the windshields of three cars, destroyed the entrance to a butcher and threw stones at a pharmacy and attached clinic, as well as the home and shop of a prominent Copt. Pickup trucks owned by Sameh Samir were destroyed, as was a taxi and two small pickups, while an agricultural siphon and the door to a health goods shop were torched. Token security forces arrived late and left soon thereafter when a local Muslim figure promised to disperse the clashes and bring calm. When the security forces left, the attacks continued.
Village of Dilga, Deir Mawas district, southern Minya governorate
In EIPR’s last report on sectarian violence, “Sectarian Incitement and Attacks from 30 June to 9 July,” one of the worst incidents took place in Dilga, where churches and Coptic homes were attacked. After these events, sectarian tension remained high in the village.
On Saturday evening, 27 July 2013, supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsy organized a march in the village streets, after which several participants headed to the orthodox Church of the Virgin and Father Abram. They pelted it with stones and Molotovs and attempted to storm it, but another group of citizens prevented them and dispersed the crowd. Another group attempted to storm the al-Islah church, which was already stormed following Morsy’s ouster on 3 July, but they also failed thanks to a group of citizens, mostly Muslims, who defended the church. They then roamed the village streets banging on the doors and windows of Christian homes, provoking fear and panic among many.
On Monday evening, 29 July, Youssef Adel Farghali died. A Muslim, he had been injured in the attacks of 3 July by a gunshot to the eye during the attacks on Coptic homes. He was taken to a hospital in the Assyout governorate. When news of his death spread, a march was announced on Thursday, 1 August, after the tarawih prayers. Marches chanted demanding retribution from Christians in general, and the homes of several Christians were pelted with stones and marked with insulting graffiti.
In this context, security leaders canceled a scheduled visit by a rights delegation, organized by media figure Butheina Kamel in coordination with the Catholic Church. Police leaders in Minya contacted Father Ayyoub Youssef, the priest at the Mar Girgis Catholic Church, and asked him not to receive the delegation, warning that they could not protect it given the charged climate in the village.
It should be noted that Dilga, starting on 30 June and for several days thereafter, witnessed successive sectarian attacks after widespread participation in demonstrations and marches against former president Mohamed Morsy. The worst took place on 3 July following the statement by Gen. Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, when several hundred village Muslims attacked the reception hall of the Mar Girgis Coptic Catholic Church. The assailants stormed the hall and torched it, the flames destroying the contents of the first floor; the Islah Church was also looted.
According to testimonies from the village, the following homes and shops were attacked:
- Khalaf Muhanna Maqar: his grocery and home looted and torched
- Gamal Ishaq Cromer: his gold shop and billiards hall looted and torched
- Nasser Youssef: his shop looted and torched
- Fayez Ghattas: his bookstore looted and torched
- Ishaq Ghattas: his home torched
- Radi Ishaq: his home and health equipment shop looted and torched
- Nadi Muhanna Maqar: his four-story home and grocery warehouse looted and torched
- Youssef Gindi and Michel Gamil were forced to break the crosses on the front of their homes after the contents of their homes were destroyed.
The next day, Mina Nadi Sadeq was stabbed in the neck while walking down the street; he was taken to the hospital for treatment.
The police arrested an unknown number of Christians and Muslims, among them Nadi Muhanna, who was later released by the Public Prosecution on bail of LE2,000. There are conflicting statements on the number of Muslims arrested.
After receiving death threats, seven Christian families related to the Ghattas and Muhanna family left the village, fearing attacks following the injury of the Muslim man who died from a gunshot wound.
1 August, Thursday: attack on Copts in Nazlit Ebeid
Nagib Gamal, Mary Nageh and Ibram Magdi, from the Christian-majority village of Nazlit Ebeid, located in the Minya district, filed complaint no. 15865/2013/misdemeanor/Minya district accusing supporters of the deposed president in the villages of Tahna al-Gil and al-Hawarta of cutting the road to the brick factories in the mountains east of Minya and preventing them from going to work, as well as attacking their cars with clubs and stones, which led to eight minor injuries and broke the windshields of eight cars.
28 July 2013, Sunday: Matay bishopric and a church pelted with bricks
Mourners taking part in a funeral procession for Ramadan Abd al-Hamid Hashem, who was killed in the al-Manassa incident and participated in the sit-in in Rabaa al-Adawiya, pelted the Coptic Orthodox Bishopric with bricks and stones at 7 am. The procession paused on Thawra Street in front of the bishopric’s closed gate while marchers threw stones at it. The same scene was repeated in the victim’s village of Kom Matay; there were no damages in either attack.
2 August 2013: demonstrations in front of Sohag Bishopric and hostile chants
Starting on 30 June 2013, the governorate of Sohag witnessed skirmishes and attempts to attack some churches and Coptic property. On 2 August, several areas in the governorate saw attacks on churches and Copts’ property. Hundreds of supporters of former president Mohamed Morsy assembled in front of the Mar Girgis Church, the seat of the Sohag, Maragha and al-Munshia bishopric, chanting hostile slogans against Christian symbols and Copts. Eyewitnesses said that the demonstrators attempted to storm the main closed gate and failed, so instead began to pelt it with stones, which smashed the windshields of several cars on the street. Eyewitnesses also said that demonstrators placed what was said to be the flag of al-Qaeda on the bishopric’s door, but the church refused to affirm or deny the incident. The GI in Sohag denied the incident in a statement issued on 5 August. Alaa Siddiq, the secretary of the Construction and Development Party in Sohag, said that online reports that churches were surrounded and the Qaeda flag raised were untrue. In fact, he said, coalition forces had formed a committee to cordon off churches and public facilities during the march and prevent any demonstrator from approaching them.
The EIPR obtained some statements from residents of Sohag regarding the incident. Mahmoud Mohamed, the director of a civic association in the governorate, said, “A few of those taking part in the march for the deposed [president] said that they had thrown bricks at the church, and one of them hung the black Qaeda flag on the door from outside. The Christians were inside and had locked the door and no one was in the courtyard. They did this at the beginning of the Islamist demonstrations and marches.”
Discussing the ongoing threats to Copts following Morsy’s ouster, he added, “Since 30 June Islamist supporters and groups have said that the Christians are the reason Morsy was deposed, so they’ve threatened the Nazarenes, gone to their homes and prevented them from taking part in any pro-army demonstrations. These threats have scared the Christians from going out into the streets.”
The EIPR obtained a photograph showing several Morsy supporters outside the door of the Sohag bishopric, one of them carrying a flag that resembles the one described by witnesses, thought to be the al-Qaeda flag.
Attack on a church in Awlad Allam
At around the same time, participants in an Islamist march attacked the Mar Girgis church in Awlad Allam, part of Girga City in the Sohag governorate, breaking some of the church windows. Security forces intervened and the crowd left the scene.
Father Or al-Baramoussi, the secretary of the Girga bishopric, said “Some kids threw bricks at the church and left right away. Nothing serious happened. It was all minor. We’ve scaled down the activities at the church to reduce the tension, and we tread carefully these days.”
Attack on Coptic homes in Benawit, Maragha
The village of Benawit, located in the Maragha district, saw violence and riots after dozens of Islamists, during a march in the village, attacked Coptic homes, destroying crosses above some doors, breaking window and throwing stones at some homes. A fight broke out between the homeowners and some marchers, after which the police arrived and arrested several people from both sides. An incident report was filed (no. 8159/misdemeanor), and the report was referred to the Maragha Summary Prosecution.
According to a statement obtained by Abu al-Ezz Tawfiq, a reporter, from the Sohag Security Directorate and related to EIPR: “The fight was between, on one side, Ahmed Hosni Abd al-Nabi, 15 (a student, sustained blunt force injuries to the skull and bruising on his arms) and Mohamed Ismail Mohamed Mahmoud, 24 (a worker, sustained an injury to the forehead and head and abrasions on the right hand) and, on the other, Rifaat Shehata Fahim Saleh, 35 (a driver, sustained a head injury), Karim Shehata Fahim Saleh, 25 (sustained a skull injury and bruises on the arms), Fahim Shehata Saleh, 21 (holder of vocational degree, sustained abrasions on the back and arms), Homra Fahmi Saleh Hanna, 55 (sustained skull injury and bruises on the lower jaw and right arm) and Shehata Fahim Saleh, 65 (retired, sustained a skull injury, bruising on the back and swelling on the left arm). The fourth and fifth participants were admitted to the district hospital. When the parties were questioned, they traded accusations, saying each side assaulted the other.”
Other parties intervened and the two sides reconciled before the Public Prosecution, after which the prosecution released those in custody.
The Girga district in Sohag governorate also witnessed the abduction of several Copts. Mina Said was kidnapped on 31 July 2013; his family paid LE150,000 for his return. On Sunday, 4 August, the body of Abduh Nasri, the director of the Girga Commercial School for Boys, was found in an irrigation canal in Assyout governorate following his abduction four days earlier.
On 6 August, armed men shot Sadeq Hakim Ebeid, 75, inside his grocery in Khazindar village in Tahta in an attempt to kidnap his son. Ebeid was killed, while another son, Mamdouh Sadeq Hakim, 45, was shot in the right thigh and his wife, Hanaa Fayez Ghali, was shot in the left knee; the latter two were taken to the Assyout University Hospital for treatment. The assailants managed to kidnap Milad Sadeq Hakim, and the family paid LE150,000 in ransom to the abductors four days later. EIPR researchers have not yet been able to obtain a detailed accounting of the background to these abductions.
Ongoing abductions in North Sinai
On 28 July 2013, three masked men kidnapped Mina Mitri Shawqi, a Copt, from in front of his electrical supplies store on Assyout Street in Arish, while he was standing out front with his father. The abductors demanded a ransom of LE150,000. The youth was returned to his family a week later, after the family paid the kidnappers through the mediation of a tribal sheikh in coordination with the security apparatus.
In its first report on sectarian violence after 30 June, the EIPR noted the abduction of Magdi Lamai, a Christian, on 5 July 2013, from the center of Sheikh Zuwied and the ransom demand given to his family. Lamai’s decapitated body was found on Wednesday, 11 July 2013, in the cemetery east of the city. The medical report issued by the Arish health office stated, “A medical examination of the body of the deceased, Magdi Lamai, 63, found that his head had been severed at the seventh cervical vertebra. A shiny iron chain was found wrapped around the deceased’s arms restrained from behind the chest. He exhibited severe abrasions and swelling around the wrists, with various abrasions and bruising on the chest, stomach and legs.”
Hegumen Youssef Sobhi, a priest with the bishopric, said, “Churches in North Sinai have suspended religious services given the danger, the armed clashes and the targeting of churches, with the exception of a short mass every Friday. Copts are afraid to go to churches. The situation in Arish is very bad, and everyone is scared. Christians in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid have left their homes and businesses and gone. Several Christians in Arish have also returned to their home governorates, but there are still several hundred Christian families in Arish. They move with extreme caution in light of clashes between terrorists and army and security forces.”
EIPR’s previous report noted the death of Father Mina Abboud, a priest with the North Sinai bishopric.
Targeting of churches in Port Said
At dawn on 28 July 2013, several supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsy opened fire on the gates of the Mar Girgis Church on Mohamed Ali Street and attempted to storm it as they returned from a funeral procession for Omar Hereidi, who was killed in the Manassa events near the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in. They also smashed up a police car that was parked in front of the church.
Attacks also took place on 15 July 2013 when masked men shot at the Rasouliya Church on 23 July Street in the Port Said governorate; two citizens were injured in the attack in the shoulder and stomach.
The Port Said Security Directorate announced on 11 August that it had arrested Ahmed Mahmoud Ahmed, aka al-Katkout, in connection with the attack on the Mar Girgis Church. The public solicitor for the Port Said Prosecution Offices ordered the suspect detained for 15 days pending investigation on the charges of attacking the Mar Girgis Church, opening fire on the church guards and other crimes.
A child killed in front of the evangelical church in Cairo
On 6 August, 10-year-old Jessie Boulos Eissa was killed when leaving the evangelical church on Ahmed Esmat Street in the Ain Shams area of Cairo. Father Nasrallah Zakariya, the girl’s uncle, told an EIPR researcher that the crime took place as the fast was broken only a few meters from the church, when the girl left with a domestic worker to take her home. She fell to the ground immediately, hit by a bullet fired from a weapon with a silencer; the bullet pierced her body in the stomach. The priest added that the child’s family has no feuds or problems with any party and that is likely that she was targeted based on her religious identity.
Defamatory graffiti on church walls
In their marches in several governorates, supporters of deposed president Morsy have left Islamic and other hostile graffiti insulting Christians and their religious leaders or graffiti demanding the boycott of the Nazarenes on the walls of churches and homes and property of Copts. The EIPR obtained photos of this graffiti from the governorates of Cairo, Minya and Assyout.
The destruction of the Mar Girgis Church, Assyout