Police in Upper Egypt have arrested a man who, according to eyewitnesses, gunned down a Christian on Tuesday (Jan. 13) for what family members believe was their refusal to drop charges against the suspect’s relatives in other religiously motivated killings in 2013.
Hasan Baghdadi was arrested on Wednesday (Jan. 14) in connection with the slaying of 38-year-old Shaheed Nesemis Saroufeem – a cousin of a Christian who was killed along with three other Copts in July 2013.
Witnesses say Baghdadi and his brother, Mohamed Baghdadi, were following Saroufeem, a bus driver in Luxor Province who was on a motor scooter at the time of the attack, back from a trip to a flour mill when they ambushed him with a machinegun fire from their motorcycle. The Baghdadi brothers are related to at least one of those accused in the 2013 killing.
Saroufeem was shot to death a day after a hearing in the trial of Baghdadi’s relatives for the 2013 murders. Returning home to Al Dabaya after grinding flour to make bread for his family, Saroufeem was hit nine times and fell to the ground. He died instantly, witnesses said.
“These people shot him and then people started screaming, ‘Shaheed is dead,’” said an eyewitness, a Christian who didn’t want his name released.
Police are still seeking the second brother, whom local Copts said is an Islamist who regularly incites violence against Christians in the area.
The court hearing on Monday (Jan. 12) concerned the 2013 killing of Saroufeem’s cousin, Emil Naseem Saroufeem, 42, and three other Copts – Rasem Tawadrous Aqladios, 56, Mouhareb Noushy Habib, 38, and Romany Noushy, 33.
A family member said Saroufeem had been receiving death threats since the court case against the men charged in the 2013 killings began in October 2014. The families of those charged put extreme pressure on the families of the victims to drop the charges or enter into a “reconciliation” meeting, relatives said, but they refused.
Reconciliation meetings usually result in little or no punishment for Muslims accused of crimes against Christians in Egypt. Though common, reconciliation meetings are forbidden under Egyptian criminal law, especially after a case has gone to court. Once a reconciliation process starts, however, it is almost certain that criminal charges against the accused will be dropped.
As the months passed, the threats increased in intensity and number, but Saroufeem did not take them seriously, relatives said. Despite the killing, the Saroufeem family is refusing to back down.
“What we really want is the government to enforce the law, or we will never feel safe,” said one male family member who asked not to be identified. “These people are asking us to drop the charges against them about the whole situation.”
The relative said the family doesn’t care about compensation for the damages.
“God will provide and take care of that,” he said. “But the thing we cannot drop or let go is these people not being charged for the murder. If we drop the charges against the killers, they will think they can kill any of us that they want and then say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ and get away with it.”
Safwat Samaan, director of the human rights group Nation Without Borders, criticized the length of time that it has taken to bring the case to trial. He said that the delay shows that the lives of Christians are worth nothing to the government.
“The court and the police have all the evidence against the killers and the attackers involved in the incident, and they are dragging their feet,” Samaan said. “Instead of doing their job and arresting the killers, they are leaving them out for a long time and allowing them to do more attacks instead of enforcing the law.”
He noted that on June 24, 2014 Kerolos Shouky Attallah, a 29-year-old Coptic Christian, was quickly convicted of defaming Islam for “liking” a Facebook page.
“The police seem to do their job very well when somebody likes a Facebook page,” Samaan said. “In a few days they are arrested, taken to court and given a six-year sentence, while a murder case [against Muslims] with solid testimony and hard evidence takes forever to go through court.”
On July 5, 2013, for reasons that remain unknown, a group of Islamists blamed Emil Naseem Saroufeem for the death of Hassan Sayyed Segdy, a Muslim whose body had been found earlier that day. Saroufeem was known to be a supporter of the Tamard or “Rebel” movement that began gathering in cities across Egypt on June 30, 2013 to demonstrate against President Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party, a political party created by the Muslim Brotherhood.
At the time, Islamists blamed the Christian minority for the drastic drop in popularity Morsi was suffering, which eventually led to his ouster.
A mob formed and began beating Saroufeem, who escaped briefly when two relatives, Habib and Noushy, hid him, according to Samaan. The rabble caught up with the three Christians in Aqladios’s apartment, and Saroufeem and Aqladios were bludgeoned to death. The group then allegedly beat and repeatedly stabbed Habib and Noushy and left them for dead. All the men were Christians.
The mob grew in strength and soon after turned on other Copts in the village, beating them as well. They looted and burned down many of the Christian homes and businesses in the village. Three other Copts were seriously wounded. In all, roughly 40 homes were destroyed, and the Copts fled what was left of Al Dabaya.
For weeks, many families refused to return to their homes. Eventually authorities rounded up roughly 16 men and charged them with various crimes related to the killings and the destruction of the village.