El-Arish Copt Gunned Down by Three Gunmen Looking for Christians
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on the evening of January 13, 2018, three armed men killed a Coptic Christian named Bassem Attala as he was returning home from work. Bassem and his family were among the hundreds of Christian families who originally fled el-Arish last year after the Islamic State killed seven Copts. Bassem and his family had returned to el-Arish in August 2017 because they could not find employment elsewhere.
According to a priest at Mar Girgis Coptic Church in el-Arish, "On Saturday evening at about 9:00 p.m., Bassem and his brother finished work in their mobile maintenance shop, closed it, and headed home. While they were on their way, they walked with their Muslim friend; three armed men then forced them at gunpoint. First, the armed men asked Bassem to show the wrist of his hand to see if he was a Christian or not. When they saw a cross tattooed on his wrist, they said to him, 'Are you Christian?' He replied, 'Yes, I'm Christian.' They then shot him in the head, instantly killing him. After killing Bassem, they asked the Muslim friend and his brother to show them their wrists. When they saw nothing tattooed, they thought they were Muslim. They then asked them to leave "
Many of Egypt's Coptic Christians have a small cross tattooed on their wrist or hand, a public symbol of their faith. Additionally, Christians dress differently and often live in their own neighborhoods, further increasing their vulnerability to targeted attacks by Islamic extremists.
"The situation in el-Arish has become so dangerous after killing Bassem. There is a state of terror and panic after this incident. Those militants... want to remove Christians from el-Arish. Killing Bassem was a threatening message from them to intimidate Christians... and to say to anyone from the displaced families who are thinking of returning back to el-Arish [that] 'your fate will be the fate of Bassem when you return.' After killing Bassem, all the displaced Christian families lost hope to return back to their homes," the priest continued.
From January to February 2017, a series of targeted murders against Christians took place in el-Arish, forcing hundreds of Christians to flee the area. Many of the displaced families have since struggled to provide for themselves. In May 2017, another Christian named Nabeel Saber Fawzi had returned to el-Arish because he was seeking to meet the physical needs of his family. He was also gunned down by militants shortly after his return.
Claire Evans, ICC's Regional Manager, said, "Nearly one year after ISIS displaced the Christians from el-Arish, extremists are once again sending a strong message that Christians are not welcome in Egypt. Bassem was singled out by the gunmen for no other reason than his faith, showing the dark intentionality of the gunmen's actions. El-Arish Christians long to return to their homes, and they have greatly struggled to make new lives elsewhere in Egypt. The authorities need to secure the safety of Christians across Egypt. Otherwise, the militants will continue in their efforts to eliminate Christianity from Egypt."
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