Violence against Christians in Al Kosheh, Egypt


Al Kiraza Magazine-January 21, 2000

Chief Editor: Pope Shenouda III

Our Martyrs in Al Kosheh

We love Egypt from the bottom of our hearts and wish it well everywhere we go. It is painful for us to see that its reputation is damaged on the Internet, foreign broadcasts and publications. All this attention was over a small village in Upper Egypt, Al Kosheh village. Local security forces failed to control the situation and therefore leading to a horrific event which some called a massacre and others said it was a slaughter.

We all want to resolve the problem of Al Kosheh. However, the problem will not be resolved by covering-up, or by painting the victims as criminals!

People with intelligence will not accept the approach of dealing with mistakes by committing additional mistakes. If we intend to create an atmosphere to calm people's hearts and reach reconciliation, we must consider giving priority to the following principles:

A condition for reconciliation is truth.

In all honesty, attempting to cover-up the previous events in Al Kosheh, approximately one and a half years a go, by means of acquitting individuals responsible for the incident and accusing the victims, has lead to the escalation of the problem in a horrific manner. Physical attacks have turned into killings.

The number of Copts killed in the incident has reached 20, not counting missing individuals, dozens were injured, in addition many Coptic-owned homes and shops were destroyed.

Therefore, we must consider the truth. Whose interest did the incident serve?

Whose interest is served by damaging Egypt's reputation in the international media? And, whose interest is served when western churches are alarmed by what they read about this human massacre?

Then we need to ask: Were local authorities in the area capable of their responsibilities? Did they intervene to control the mob before the incident turned into a widespread crime?

Responsibility falls first on security forces to stop a crime before it occurs. If they were not able to prevent the crime, they should at least intervene and prevent it from spreading. Did they do this?

We have confidence in the authorities in Cairo, however, the problem lies among the authorities in the area where the incident occurred.

We did not wish to comment on the incident, however, many newspapers reported inaccurate information that was not based on eyewitness accounts. We finally decided that people needed to hear eyewitness accounts of trusted individuals who personally witnessed and recorded the incident.

Sequence Of Events:

The problem started following an argument between a merchant and a customer. This was on Friday, December 31, 1999, on New Year's Eve. The situation could have been controlled. From 11:00 pm on Friday until 10:00 am on Saturday (January 1), Christian-owned homes and shops were looted, destroyed and then burned.

Where was the police at that time? Al Kosheh is a small village and was dealing with great tensions, which required extra attention.

On Sunday and Monday mornings the killings began. The number of deaths reached 20 including two bodies that were burned after being killed.

The Copts were living in fear and stayed in their homes, not even able to open their windows. They did not feel safe at all. As if police has no duty to protect them. Some have congregated far from the attack areas, and were able to hear shots being fired, but had no protection at all.

Pope Shenouda was contacted on Sunday while he was in a Monastery.

A decision was reached to send two bishops to the area. They are, Bishop Serbamoun and Bishop Marcos. Officer Atef Abu Shady accompanied them during their flight to the area in order to calm the situation.

An armored vehicle was brought to transport the bishops who were unable to leave their residence. This was a temporary situation and the bishops had not yet seen the crime scene.

The Dead:

The two bishops were escorted by Officer Atef Abu Shady and saw 11 bodies in various homes, 8 bodies in nearby fields and one body which was later discovered.

The scene was very painful. There was another individual with the eight people who were killed in the field. The assailants shot him and left him behind thinking that he was dead. His name is Marcus Rushdy Gindy. Bishop Serbamoun shouted, "how can a man be left to bleed to death without any attempt to save his life?" Officer Atef Abu Shady responded and called for an ambulance to transport the victim to a hospital. When the ambulance arrived, they asked him about his attackers. He responded that Khalaf Abul Qassem and Khalifa Rifai Sadek are responsible for killing the eight and injuring him.

A young girl was among the eight who were killed. Her name was Maysoun Ayad Fahmy. They cut her face first, then killed her. Her brother, Adel is a deacon at the church. Following Sunday's mass, he went to the field to meet his sister. He too was killed.

Each one of those who were killed and injured in their homes, had a story detailing this human tragedy. Even some of our security escorts were in tears upon hearing their stories.

Mamdouh Noshy Sadek was killed in front of his wife, Manal Zarif, and his body was burned. They forced the wife to sign a check for 50,000 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $15,000 USD). They released her when they saw some security forces nearby.

The wife then identified four of the assailants, they are: - Tariq Sharaf Eddin Youssef, and his brother, - Yasser Sharaf Eddin - Assem Abul Fadl Abul Qassem - Assem Nasr Eddin Youssef

The two bishops also witnessed the bullet holes and bloodstains in the homes of many Christians.

Atef Izzat Zaki was also among the dead. His attackers repeatedly stabbed him in the chest in front of his mother, Samiha Hafez Al Saih, who latter identified the assailants as the sons of Seid Arnout and others.

A burned body was also found on top of a pile of bamboo sticks. His mother identified him by a ring he was wearing, and later identified his killers to police investigators.

All of this was revealed during the visit. Authorities refused to reveal such details earlier. Furthermore, the Governor of Sohag, assured the bishops that only five people were killed. In fact, 20 people were killed and dozens were wounded.

The Injured:

Regarding the injured, we have lists which contains the names of dozens of individuals. We have presented these lists to the authorities.

- Nabil Sami Seif, a wholesale merchant, was among the injured. He was beaten and his warehouse was burned inflicting damage amounting to 150,000 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $50,000 USD). He provided police with the names of his attackers.

- Marcus Rushdy Gendy was also among the injured. He testified before Officer Atef Abu Shady and Mahomoud Saqr and provided them with the names of some of the killers.

- Ms. Manal Zarif Fares, was also injured after her husband, Mamdouh Noshy Sadek, was killed.

- Those injured by gunshots included Ashraf Halim Istaphanous (has a gunshot wound on his left shoulder), Marcus Shenouda Guirguis (has a gunshot wound on his leg), and Kurdy Rizk Ishaq (has a gunshot wound in his chest).

Names of Individuals Whose Property was Damaged:

- Mounir Azmy Lawandy: His furniture shop destroyed. (A personal identity card #22085 belonging to a Muslim Abdul Ghany Abdulah Zarzoor was found in his store and was submitted as evidence to police).

- Individuals whose houses were burned include: Mamdouh Noshy Sadek, Nagih Hosni Iskarous, Sami Seif Maowad, Ayad Seif Maowad.

- Firebombs were lodged at the homes of: Mousa Fakhry Ghali, Abdul Noor Shahid Sefein, Melika Farouq Labib.

- Moris Helmy Shakir, an electrician, had tools stolen from his shop and was later set ablaze.

- Nabil Guirguis Babawy, a blacksmith: All of his tools were stolen and his shop was burned.

- Mannan Dabous Henin, owner of a photography studio: His studio was completely damaged.

- Rifaat Sourial Geid, a blacksmith: The gate to his warehouse was damaged and goods were stolen.

- Mounir Khristo Nashid and his brother Mikhail Khristo Nashid: Doors to their warehouse were broken and livestock was stolen.

- Three textile shop-owners, Sourial Helmy Sefein, Youhanna Sefein Tanious, and Bernaba Shahid Qidis: All textiles were stolen from their shops.

- Al Daba Attyah Shenouda, a tailor: Two sewing machines and fabric were stolen from his shop.

- Salah Naguib Geid: His car was and the front door to his house was destroyed.

- Naguib Mousa Issa, a grocer: All goods were stolen from his shop and house.

- The homes of the following individuals were also attacked: Ayad Gad Hanna, Shamshoun Mikhail Salib, Babawy Guirguis Babawy.

- The shops of the following individuals were attacked: Milad Wasfi Attiya, owner of a supermarket, Ashraf Youssef Ifram, owner of an auto accessories shop, Mousa Fikri Ghali, his fertalizer warehouse was set ablaze.

These were few examples of the attacks on Copts to terrorize them and damage their livelihood. Here, we also ask, where were security forces from Friday evening until Monday morning?!

Obstructing the Pope's Secretary:

Pope Shenouda sent Bishop Youanas to attend the victim's funeral and pray over their souls. However, an unexpected event occurred. Security forces stopped the bishop while he was on his way to the village and accused him of bringing weapons to Christians. They removed the driver of his car and then escorted the bishop to a location he did not recognize. This continued until different police officers came and saved the bishop!

The bishop continued his journey where he conducted the prayers along with bishops in the area.

The funeral procession was very moving, as people were carrying the caskets and everyone, including the clergy was in tears over what happened.

Rumors and Provocation:

One example was that of a man shouting from a mosque, "beware Muslims Copts want to poison the water you are drinking in order to kill you." The Governor heard this man and stated that he ordered the man to be beaten and then released him. We are aware that this man is involved in spreading sectarianism in the village, but he was not arrested.

Another rumor was that Christians had killed Muslims and some urged Muslims to retaliate. This was said while Christians were in their homes terrified after they have been attacked. No one intervened in order to put an end to these rumors and an atmosphere of chaos continued to spread in the village.

Rumors are perhaps responsible for what happened to Bishop Youanas. These were the same rumors that reached some newspapers in Cairo, and Chief Editors ordered them published without examination of the truth and hearing both sides.

The Pope has continued to meet with state security officials in Cairo and exchanged ideas regarding the situation.

Deterioration of Events:

It is important to point out the escalation of events from a verbal disagreement to looting and attacking homes and shops, then to killing and burning corpses. Who is responsible for these attacks and for the terror victims were subjected to?

In addition, violence has spread from Al Kosheh to surrounding villages, including Awlad Touq East and Awlad Touq West, and Naga Mousa as well as other areas. St. George's Church, in Awlad Touq, was destroyed and all of its contents were looted. Fear was spreading among Copts as they witnessed these uninterrupted acts of vandalism and killing. All of these acts occurred without any intervention from the part of local authorities.

Reconciliation and Restoration of Peace:

Finally, on the fourth day of the violence, Monday night, some order was restored to the village by security forces.

This apparent calm is only artificial, there is no peace or calm in people's hearts after the bloodshed of 20 victims.

Cain was the first man on earth to hear the voice of God saying "the voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Genesis 4:10).

True reconciliation can take place only after the blood of these victims receives justice.

Please pardon the broken hearts if they cry out for justice. Do not blame our hearts and remember what the late leader Saad Zaghlool said: When people witness a victim crying and a perpetrator beating him; they would not say to the victim do not cry without saying to the perpetrator do not beat the victim."

May Egypt always live in peace and security.

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