Police in Egypt killed three suspected jihadists allegedly involved in the slaying of a Coptic Christian man kidnapped more than five months ago in a restless part of Sinai Peninsula, the Interior Ministry said Monday.
Security forces exchanged fire with Islamic State group jihadists while chasing them in the Abtal area of North Sinai province. Three of the terrorists were killed, the ministry said.
The ministry, which oversees all law enforcement, said an explosives belt detonated during the shootout. It was unclear whether the bomber was one of the three terrorists the ministry said were killed. No casualties were reported among the security forces.
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The details provided by the ministry could not be independently verified and media access to northern Sinai is heavily restricted.
The ministry said the dead terrorists were involved in the killing of Nabil Habashi, a 62-year-old Coptic Christian from the town of Bir al-Abd. Habashi had built the sole church in the area – St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Beir al-Abd.
Militants kidnapped Habashi, a jewelry dealer, in November from Bir al-Abd, and demanded a ransom of 2 million Egyptian pounds ($127,550), a church official told The Associated Press.
The local Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula released a 13-minute video on April 17 showing Habashi kneeling, with three men dressed in black standing behind him.
Frontpagemag.com reports the man in the middle of the three militants then begins speaking.
“All praise to Allah, who ordered his slaves Muslims to fight and who assigned humiliation onto the infidels” — this latter part is said while the terrorist contemptuously points at the bound and kneeling man before him — “until they pay the jizya while feeling utterly subdued.”
The speaker then threatens “all the crusaders of the world” which the media outlet referenced as meaning “Christians in the West.” He also threatens Christians in Egypt.
“As for you Christians of Egypt, this is the price of your support for the Egyptian army,” he said.
Then the speaker points his rifle at the back of Habashi’s head, chanting “jihad! jihad! jihad!” and fires, killing him.
“He kept the faith till the moment he was killed,” the group Sinai Province said of Habashi in a statement.
The video also showed militants apparently shooting dead two Bedouins captured by the group for allegedly cooperating with security forces in Sinai. The Bedouins said they were from the nomadic Arab Trabin tribe and were captured in a jihadist attack in central Sinai in February. They were part of the so-called Sinai Tribes Union, which provides intelligence to the military and police forces.
The Bedouins, with their local knowledge, accompany forces on patrols and raids searching for weapons caches. They also man checkpoints. Scores of Bedouins have been killed in the past couple of years.
It was not clear when Habashi and the two Bedouins were killed.
Egypt is battling an Islamic State-led insurgency in Sinai Peninsula that intensified after the military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013. The military had intervened after mass protests against the president’s divisive, one-year rule. The insurgents have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting the security forces and minority Christians.
The pace of Islamic State attacks in Sinai’s main theater and elsewhere has slowed to a trickle since February 2018, when the military launched a massive operation in the region that also encompassed parts of the Nile Delta and deserts along the country’s western border with Libya.
Christians in Egypt have been targeted by radical Muslim groups for years. As CBN News has previously reported, Christians are oftentimes falsely accused of posting insulting comments about Islam or its prophet to social media, in an effort to anger the local Muslim population.
The anger simmers until a group of Muslims believes the falsehoods and physically attacks an accused person or other Christians living near one another in a village. Last December, after one of these false accusations, hundreds of Muslims began attacking Christians and their property with clubs, bricks, and Molotov cocktails in the Egyptian village of Barsha, according to reports from Christian persecution watchdog groups.
When the mob attempted to attack the home of the Christian man accused of posting the Facebook comment, his moderate Muslim neighbor stepped in. The neighbor hid the man and his family in his own home and protected them from the violent mob.
The angry crowd also attempted to break into the Abu-Siefeen Coptic Orthodox church where Christians were worshipping that evening. The parishioners locked themselves inside until local police arrived and used tear gas to disperse the rioters.
Egypt is currently ranked #16 on Open Doors International’s 2021 World Watch List among the most dangerous places to be a Christian