Bel Trew reports: “Are you Christian?” were the only words the masked men asked Misaq, 58, an Egyptian hospital worker, as they poked their machine guns through the car windows.
Moments before, the Coptic father of four and his Muslim colleague had passed through an Egyptian military check point, and then watched as an Egyptian army vehicle passed them.
They were on their daily drive home to Arish city in North Sinai from the government hospital where they both work. Driving the short distance between two official checkpoints, it hadn’t occurred to them to be on the lookout for fighters from the so-called Islamic State. But now they were looking at the barrels of ISIS guns.
Misaaq, a devout Copt, refused to lie to the jihadists, his friend later told the family. The ISIS fighters, perhaps taken aback by the man’s bravery, demanded to see his ID card, which confirmed his religion. They even checked the cross tattoo on his wrist, which most Coptic Christians have.
“Convert, infidel, and we will spare your life,” they told him, as they dragged him out of the vehicle and forced him to his knees. But again he refused. So they shot him 14 times and left the corpse in the desert.
“The terrorists have no schedule. They appear out of nowhere. They hunt us down,” Misaq’s impoverished widow, Magda, 52, said as she described the nightmare Christians are forced to live in Arish. It is the largest city in North Sinai, a region that has been a battleground for four years between the Egyptian army and insurgents.
Magda’s is one of the nearly 300 Christian families who fled their hometown in February, after ISIS murdered seven Copts in less than three weeks. The majority, like Magda, fled to Ismailia, a Suez Canal city where they are now in partial hiding in ramshackle flats.
“This ISIS checkpoint appeared between two military checkpoints,” she told me. “The soldiers must have heard the shots. They have towers, they could have easily seen what was going on. My husband was driving behind a military vehicle but it never turned back. No one came to help him.”
Magda, echoing other families who spoke to The Daily Beast, said the security forces were worried about their own safety. “They are targets, too. They are often too scared to do anything.”
February’s mass exodus of Christians from the troubled peninsula, which followed the ISIS-claimed bombing of a major Cairo cathedral in December, are stark reminders of how the government is not winning its heavily-touted war against terrorism. [Continue reading…]