An Islamic State-affiliated group has claimed the execution of a Coptic Christian and two tribesmen in Egypt’s restive Sinai region, in a video posted on its Telegram channel.
The Coptic Church, which makes up between 10 and 15 percent of Egypt’s 100 million population, on Sunday named the Christian killed as Nabil Habashi Salama.
“The church affirms its steadfast support of the Egyptian state’s efforts in quelling hateful terror acts,” the Coptic Church’s spokesman said after the killing claimed by Sinai Province, an armed group loyal to ISIL (ISIS).
The armed groups have drawn support from local Bedouins complaining of marginalisation, a charge the government denies.
In a 13-minute video released by Sinai Province late on Saturday, the 62-year-old Salama, a Copt from Bir al-Abd in North Sinai, is seen being shot dead at point-blank range by a rebel flanked by two others carrying rifles.
“As for you Christians of Egypt, this is the price you are paying for supporting the Egyptian army,” the man who executes the Copt says in the video.
Two young Sinai tribesmen are also seen being killed in a barren, desert landscape, with the armed group members accusing them of fighting alongside the Egyptian military.
Egypt’s interior ministry said Monday it killed three “terrorist elements” in the Sinai Peninsula suspected of involvement in the execution.
“National security received intelligence about a group of terrorist elements involved in the killing of Nabil Habashi… in North Sinai… with the aim of carrying out hostile operations targeting the homes and houses of worship of Coptic citizens,” the ministry said in a statement.
Three suspected militants were killed in an “intense firefight” with security forces, the ministry added.
The ministry said its troops found one suicide belt and a hand grenade in the militants’ possession. It said a manhunt was continuing for other suspected members of the cell.
The incident comes ahead of Coptic Easter which will be celebrated by Egypt’s Orthodox Christian community on May 2.
Please pray for his family and for the safety of all Christians as we approach Holy Week https://t.co/sYsTtLFZjR
— marina (@Crazy_Copt) April 18, 2021
At least 45 people were killed in suicide bombings at two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. The ISIL (ISIS) armed group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred a week before Coptic Easter.
A decade-old armed rebellion in North Sinai escalated in 2013 when the army overthrew Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Most attacks have been staged in the Sinai Peninsula but they have also used the territory as a launchpad to strike elsewhere in Egypt.
In February 2018, the government of President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi launched a nationwide operation against armed groups focused on North Sinai, but the security operations have been criticised for violating human rights.
Between June 2013 and July 2020, Egyptian troops demolished more than 12,300 buildings in a campaign of forced evictions that likely amounted to “war crimes”, according to a March report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
A previous report published by HRW in 2019 detailing “serious abuses” by the army against civilians in North Sinai drew angry denials from Cairo.
The army says some 970 suspected armed group members have been killed in the ongoing security campaign.
But the region has remained largely cut off to journalists, making the compilation of independent casualty figures almost impossible.