On a rural road in Derna District in northeastern Libya on Wednesday (Sept. 25), a group of Muslims surrounded Waleed Saad Shaker, 25, and Nash’at Shenouda Ishaq, 27, demanded their belongings and started beating them. During the strong-arm robbery, the relatives said, the Muslims demanded that Shaker and Ishaq recite the shahada, the declaration of conversion to Islam. When the two Orthodox Coptic Christians refused, the group of Muslims tied them up and shot them.
Later that day, a shepherd found Shaker and Ishaq in the desert, and they were taken to Derna Hospital. Shaker was dead upon arrival at the hospital, according to a member of Ishaq’s family who requested anonymity. Gamel Saleem, a cousin of Shaker who saw his body, said the skull had been beaten in. Shaker’s death certificate identifies injuries to his head as the cause of death.
Ishaq initially survived the attack, and before he died he was able to give details about the assault to a relative, also resident in Libya. Escorting the body back to Upper Egypt for burial, the relative relayed the details to Ishaq’s family and the Shaker family.
No one has been arrested in connection with the killings. The attack marks the third time in two weeks that a Coptic Christian has been robbed and killed in Derna District, which along with the surrounding region is known as a hotbed of extremist Islamic activity.
Saleem said his cousin supported an elderly and ailing father, a disabled brother and two sisters.
“His family is emotionally devastated,” Saleem said. “And he was the only financial support they had.”
Ishaq is survived by a wife and two children, ages 6 and 3.
The bodies of both Christians were transported to Upper Egypt and buried on Friday (Sept. 27), Ishaq’s in the village of Al-Ismailia in Minya Governorate and Shaker’s in the village of Dasment Safat Al-Gabl, in Beni Suef Governorate.
Persecution in Libya
Libya has long been a place where Egyptians have traveled in search of economic opportunity. Under the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi, freedom of religion was curtailed but persecution of Christians, especially Coptic Christians from neighboring Egypt, was minor.
After the fall of Gaddafi in the Libyan Revolution of 2011, religious persecution exploded when, in the vacuum left by Gaddafi’s absence, Islamists rose to power in certain places in Libya.
In February, members of an Islamic militia group known as the Preventative Security Unit rounded up eight expatriate Christians in Benghazi – a Korean, a South African, a Swedish-American and five Egyptians – and accused them of proselytizing. On March 10, one of the detainees, 45-year-old Ezzat Hakim Atallah, died while in custody (see Morning Star News, March 14).
Family members in contact with Atallah while he was jailed said he had been tortured and that his death was a result of a heart condition combined with torture, harsh conditions and lack of medical care. The Libyan government claimed Atallah died from high blood pressure.
The Egyptian government, at the time run by the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, also claimed that Atallah died only from medical causes. The Atallah family, however, viewed his body and confirmed signs of abuse. Due to cultural considerations, they declined to have a medical examiner inspect the body.
Another Egyptian detainee, Sherif Ramses, a long-term resident of Libya and an openly active Christian, was said to have the greatest risk of being accused of proselytizing. But by April 19, all those rounded up in the incident had been released. Weeks after his release, Ramses confirmed to Morning Star News that he had been tortured in jail. He declined to give details other than that he had been beaten and subject to electroshock.
While this was happening, Islamists struck hard at Egyptian Christians in Libya. During the week of Feb. 17, Islamists raided the stalls of the Al-Jareed street market, looking for Christians. Several dozen were arrested and taken to a holding camp run by a militia leader, where many were flogged and had their heads shaved. They were forced to stand nude outside in the cold at night and had to sleep huddled together on stone floors.
On Feb. 28 and again on March 14 in Benghazi, the Church of St. Mark was attacked. In the first incident, a priest and a lay worker at the church were assaulted. Someone set fire to the church building during the second attack. The church priest was eventually forced to flee, fearing for his life.
Categories: Christian persecution