Village of small mud alleys and brick homes is shattered by grief after ISIS beheading of Coptic Christian hostages

February 17, 2015 12:53 pm

This village of small mud alleys and brick homes is shattered by
grief. Women draped in black are hoarse from screaming. Men sob in
silence, at times shaking their heads as if to expel the horror from
their minds.
Just last year, 13 young men from el-Aour, a
Christian-majority farming community in ’s Nile River Valley,
traveled to neighboring , among the tens of thousands of
impoverished Egyptians seeking work there.
But they became
victims of Libya’s chaos. They were among 21 Christians dragged off by
militants in December and January. After nearly 50 days knowing nothing
of their fate, their families on late Sunday saw their monstrous,
videotaped last moments.

A man from the village of el-Aour is comforted by others as he mourns
over Egyptian Coptic Christians, who were captured in Libya and killed
by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group.

The 21, wearing orange jumpsuits, were
marched onto a Libyan beach, forced to kneel with a masked,
knife-wielding militant standing behind each, and then beheaded.
The deaths touched everyone in the village’s population of around 3400.

On Monday, Bushra Fawzi could not stop weeping. He saw his son
Shenouda in the video. “I had been looking for a bride for him,” Fawzi
gasped. “He is my first and eldest son. My first joy and happiness.”
“I
want his body back. If they dumped it in the sea, I want it back. If
they set fire to it, I want its dust.” And he wanted revenge – to “take
hold of his murderer, tear him apart, eat his liver and his flesh.”
He
and others in the village vented anger at the Egyptian government,
saying it failed to help them. Many accusing it of ignoring them because
they were Christian.
“If there were Muslims among the 21, they
would have been rescued. But no one paid attention,” one woman screamed
to reporters outside her house. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi “did
nothing to our sons because they are Christians.”
After the video
came out, el-Sissi went on national TV and vowed vengeance, and hours
later, Egyptian warplane struck Islamic State group targets in their
main stronghold in Libya, Darna.
In a show of support, el-Sissi
visited the pope of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christian Church at the main
cathedral in Cairo, and his prime minister, Ibrahim Mahlab, visited
el-Aour on Monday, meeting with grieving families.El-Sissi was elected
last spring with overwhelming support from Egypt’s Christians, who
backed his ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power.
Still, the minority community feels it remains as second-class citizens,
long complaining of discrimination.
During protests in Cairo
over the abduction of the 21 in Libya last week, demonstrators chanted,
“The blood of the Copts is not cheap.”
Libya, rich in oil and
short on labour, has long been a magnet for Egyptians. Libya’s 2011
civil war left much of the country in ruins, creating a boom for skilled
foreign workers.
Egyptians have jumped at the opportunity: they
are the largest single group of foreign workers in Libya. They have
continued to go even as Egyptians, and Copts in particular, have become
targets for Islamic extremists flourishing in Libya’s chaos.
The
21 were abducted in the central Libyan city of Sirte in December and
January, when militants stormed their housing compound, picking out the
Christians from among the Muslims.
Fawzi said the last time he
spoke to Shenouda before his abduction, his son told him he felt unsafe
and wanted to come home but the road out of Sirte was not secure. “I
told him, forget about money and come back.”
El-Aour on Monday
seemed to scream with the pain of its people. Many had watched the video
when it was aired in full on a private Egyptian TV station. Some
residents gathered in the courtyard of its Virgin Mary Church, weeping
and embracing each other. One man collapsed on the ground, screaming to
God, “You are the avenger, You are the almighty.”
Women in black
filed through the narrow alleys around the mud-brick houses, visiting
victims’ relatives to console them. Each time they entered a house, the
wails and screams erupted again. In one house, the sister of two
brothers among those killed – Beshoy and Samuel Istafanous – lay limp on
the floor half-conscious as women sobbed around her.
In a nearby
home, female relatives of 22-year-old Girgis Milad Sanyout sat on
plastic mats on the floor, wailing and slapping their faces. “Do you
feel the fire in my heart?” one woman shrieked.
Sanyout’s cousin, Malak, who lived next door, was also among those killed.
His
niece, Mervat Ashamallah, said she saw the video – watched her uncle
forced onto his belly before his throat was cut. “Where were you God?
Why didn’t You intervene to rescue him?” she said, her chin wet with
tears.
“Why didn’t they just shoot them? It would have been more merciful.”
Elsewhere
in the village, Babawi Walham sat with his head wrapped in a scarf, his
eyes swollen from crying. No one had slept from the night before when
the came. He said he, his parents, four brothers and sister and all
their wives and children had gathered around the TV waiting for news of
his brother, Samuel.
When the news announced the video’s
release, he said, some in his family collapsed and fainted.”I watched
the video. I saw my brother,” he said. “My heart stopped beating. I felt
what he felt.”

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