Egyptian Christians, who celebrate Christmas on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, are “bracing themselves for another onslaught in the festive period,” according to a new report.
At least 115 Coptic Christians have been killed in Egypt by Islamic State militants this year, and the Islamic State (ISIS) has warned Christians living in Egypt that they will pay for their faith with “a river of blood,” according to the report by Bel Trew, writing for the Times.
Last Friday, hundreds of Muslim demonstrators attacked a Christian church south of Cairo, wounding three people in the latest assault on members of the country’s Christian minority.
Demonstrators gathered outside the building and stormed it after Friday prayers, chanting anti-Christian slogans and calling for the church’s demolition. The demonstrators destroyed the church’s contents and assaulted Christians inside before security personnel arrived and dispersed them.
The protesters justified their assault by saying that the church in Giza just outside of Cairo has not been licensed by the state, but Christians have been holding prayers there for 15 years. The diocese said it had officially sought to legalize the building’s status under a 2016 law that laid down the rules for building churches.
In his report from Ismailia, Trew said that fighters from the Islamic State terror group “have stormed Christian homes, businesses, churches and cathedrals and have fired on buses of Coptic pilgrims” and “more than 300 Christian families fled north Sinai” after jihadists started systematically slaughtering the Christians last spring.
A woman identified only as “Mariam,” whose husband was among those whom ISIS killed, said that the situation in Arish, Sinai, is getting harder. After her husband was killed in May, “Christians there realised they would never be safe.”
“Some families go back to check on their homes but it’s usually only women,” she added. “They have to be extra careful, they always take supplies with them so they don’t risk going to the shops. They keep their doors and windows bolted. Some just stay in the church there.”
In a video released this year, an Islamic State group affiliate in Egypt showed the suicide bomber who killed nearly 30 people in a packed church last December while vowing more attacks on the country’s Christians.
A narrator in the video declared that Egyptian Christians are the extremist group’s “favorite prey.”
The voice-over says that Christians are no longer “dhimmis,” a reference to non-Muslims in Islam who enjoy a degree of state protection but are simply “infidels” who are empowering the West against Muslim nations.
“God gave orders to kill every infidel,” one of the militants carrying an AK-47 rifle said in the video.
President Sisi recently vowed to crush the Islamic State in Sinai within three months, after ISIS militants stormed a Sufi mosque near Arish last month, killing more than 300 people in the single-largest terrorist attack in Egyptian history.
“You can use all brute force necessary,” Sisi told his security forces.
The Interior Ministry has deployed 230,000 personnel to protect more than 2,900 religious buildings during Christmas, and the country has been under a state of emergency since suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday last April, but Christians still live in fear of further attacks.
“I’m not going to change my behavior. I will keep going to church even for Christmas,” Mariam said resolutely. “Even if I hear the church will be bombed I will go to it to be reunited with my husband.”
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