Three Egyptian Coptic Orthodox monks killed in South Africa monastery

A 35-year-old male suspect has been arrested but police say the motive for the fatal stabbings is still unclear.

Pope Tawadros II
Pope Tawadros II, centre, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, called the deaths 'painful' [File: James Quigg/The Victor Valley Daily Press via AP]

Three Egyptian Coptic Orthodox monks have been stabbed to death in a monastery in South Africa.

A 35-year-old man was arrested in connection with the killings, police said on Wednesday, but they were still to establish a motive for the crime, in Gauteng province.

The suspect, whose name was not made public, was due to be arraigned in court on Thursday.

The three monks were murdered on Tuesday inside the Saint Mark the Apostle and Saint Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Cullinan, a town 50km (30 miles) northeast of the capital, Pretoria, police said.

“Three victims were found with stab wounds while the fourth victim that survived alleged that he was hit by an iron rod on his hand before fleeing and hiding in one of the rooms,” the police statement said.

Nothing was taken from the scene, it added.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was “closely following the investigations into the killing of three Egyptian monks”.

The Coptic Orthodox Church said all three monks were Egyptian nationals as it named them as Hegumen Takla el-Samuely, Yostos Ava Markos and Mina Ava Markos.

“There is no doubt that it is a painful incident,” Pope Tawadros II said in a statement on Wednesday, calling the monks “martyrs” and saying that the church had sent a delegation to South Africa.

“There are many rumours, but so far the truth of the situation has not become apparent. We console their families, we console the church there, and we console ourselves.”

No date has been set for a funeral but the monks will likely be buried in South Africa where they served according to tradition, the pope added.

Deadly attacks on places of worship in South Africa are rare, however, the Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, has been the target of assaults by Islamic fighters in Egypt and elsewhere.

The church had in recent months condemned Israel’s continuing war on Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies