Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Islamist Carnage and Rampage in Egyptian Monastery

Courtesy: Watani News

The fourth century monastery of Deir Abu-Fana (St Epiphanius) lies in a desolate spot amid the sand dunes of the Western Desert 30km south of Minya, Upper Egypt. A number of monks live there, while the cells of hermits are scattered in the desert around the central monastery compound which includes the ancient church and communal buildings. The monks farm the land around the monastery, producing crops, mushrooms, and honey to provide for the monastery and their upkeep.

The rampage

The peaceful monastery was the target of an atrocious attack by a group of some 70 Arabs’, as tribal communities that live in the desert are called, armed with automatic weapons, on Saturday 31 May. At 5:00pm the attack started at the farmlands surrounding the monastery buildings. The plants and fields were destroyed, and the monks and workers assaulted. The gas-fired irrigation pumps were broken and the gas used to torch the monastery buildings and cells. The attack converged on the central compound; three cells were burnt and the mushroom produce building destroyed, as well as a tractor owned by the monastery. The tractor is a major means of transport for the monks among the sand dunes.

The attackers set the Church of the Pope Kyrillos on fire, destroyed the altar, tore and torched the bibles and icons, and ruined the wire fence recently built to protect the monastery.

Father Bakhoum, 35, was shot in the shoulder and leg, Father Fini was injured in the arm, and the two cadets Brother Sawiris, 30, and Brother Michael, 25, were injured in their arms and legs. One of the attackers, Khalil Ibrahim Mohamed, 39, was killed.

When they finally left, the attackers abducted three monks, Fathers Youa’nnis, Maximous, and Andrawes, as well as Ibrahim Taqqi who is the brother of one of the monks and was incidentally visiting the monastery at the time.

Rushing to Minya

The injured—two of them in critical condition—were moved to Minya hospital in a small truck used by the monastery for its farm animals since, despite repeated calls by the monastery to the police and the ambulance, neither arrived at the scene of the attack before 8:30pm. The Qasr Hur police station is a mere two kilometres away from the monastery.

Anba Dimitrious, Archbishop of Mallawi to which the monastery is affiliated, rushed back home from Cairo where he had been attending the annual celebration of the entry of the Holy Family in Egypt, held at the church of the Holy Virgin in Maadi, Cairo. Halfway through the celebration he was informed of the situation at Abu-Fana, and directly left.

Last January the monastery was also the scene of an attack by the same group of men, who claim rights to part of the monastery land. None of the attackers was prosecuted. And even though a decree was issued last April by the then Minya governor Fouad Saad Eddin to build a wall around the monastery grounds, the monastery has not been allowed to do so.

Gross injustice

Father Antonious, a monk at Deir Abu-Fana, told Watani that the security officials knew who had conducted the “barbaric” attack—they were the same people who had attacked the monastery several times before—but did nothing at all to bring them to justice. Instead, “the chief investigator treated us very badly, and the police detained Rifaat Fawzy, the contractor who is building the fencing wall around the monastery grounds, and accused him of killing Mohamed even though Mr Fawzy had not been present when the attack took place,” Fr Antonious said.

Ibrahim Fawzy asserted that his brother Rifaat had nothing to do with the murder of Mohamed. “If the police insist on fabricating the case,” he said, “it would be gross injustice and would moreover create a vendetta between us and the Arabs, a problem which might take a lifetime to resolve.”

Father Kyrillos Ava Fana bitterly lamented what he described as the collaboration between the police and the criminals. He rejected the statement uttered by Minya governor Ahmed Diaa’ Eddin, in which he stated that the incident was an “exchange of fire” between the two parties “over a land dispute”, an expression which put the victim and attacker on the same standing. “What weapons?” Fr Kyrillos said. “Our only weapon is the Cross.”

As to the so-called “dispute over land”, Fr Kyrillos said, the monastery had all the documents to prove ownership of the land, and had moreover the approval of the previous governor Fouad Saad Eddin to build a fencing wall around the land.

Moved to Cairo

On Monday, Anba Dimitrious ordered that the injured, who were treated very poorly at Minya hospital, should be moved to the Cairo hospital of Burg Mina for treatment. Brother Sawiris, whose arm injury was in a critical state, narrowly escaped an amputation. He underwent a seven-hour surgery that saved his arm. “I thank God, and the doctors at Burg Mina for saving me,” he said. “And I thank Anba Dimitrious for moving us from Minya where we were treated without the least rudiments of human dignity. We were humiliated, and I was denied any pain killer and callously told to ‘go to sleep’ instead. It was more like a concentration camp not a hospital.”

Anba Dimitrious has been constantly visiting the monks at the hospital, offering support and comfort.

Harrowing tales

The three monks who were abducted, but not Mr Taqqi, were returned on Sunday in a distressing condition, and were immediately moved to hospital. The security officials had ordered Samir Abu-Louli, the chief of the attackers, to bring back the abducted monks, which he did.

The returned monks had stories to tell that seemed to come straight out of a medieval horror tale.

Fr Youa’nnis told Watani that he was threatened with a gun and kidnapped. He was blindfolded and moved, along with two other monks behind a nearby hill where they were savagely beaten with sticks and clubs. They were then moved to a house where they were again beaten with clubs, cables and water hoses, and cruelly tortured. “One woman took part in the torture. She kept on hitting me with a big stone on the face and eyes. The men broke my leg, and cut off part of my ear,” he said, “I fainted.” The following day Fr Youa’nnis was stripped to a donkey’s back and taken out in the desert where he was cast down and ordered to “walk back to your monastery. It’s not too far away,” they mocked. “I remained there till the police picked me up hours later,” he said.

Fr Andrawes said he was tortured, together with Fr Maximous, from 7:00pm till dawn of the following day. Apart from the beatings, they were both tied to a tree and flogged. A cross was drawn on the ground and the two monks were ordered to mock it and pronounce the Islamic testimony. In the morning, the monks were thrown in the desert where Abu-Louli later picked them up and handed them over to the police.

Coptic anger

On Sunday a number of monks demonstrated peacefully before Minya hospital because they were prevented by the security officials to visit the injured monks.

Thousands of young Copts demonstrated in Mallawi, before the bishopric, Minya governorate headquarters, and the public hospital, protesting the security authorities’ failure to protect the monastery, and accusing security officials of collaborating with the attackers.

Seven Copts were injured when the security forces attempted to disperse the crowd.

The police detained 11 Arabs but, according to lawyers Ayman Rafiq and Ihab Ramzy who represent the bishopric; they are all underage and had nothing to do with the attack. This is a standard ploy the security forces use so that all the detainees may be later released because they are minors and due lack of discriminating evidence. The lawyers demanded that Samir Abu-Luli and his group should be arrested, but there was no response from the security authorities. Instead, nine Copts from among the villagers of Qasr Hur were detained and charged with possession of unlicensed weapons, and seven of them were released Thursday evening. Other Copts were haphazardly detained, including the operator of a public telefax and telephone exchange office through which many Copts sent messages to officials or friends asking for urgent help or protesting the events. The operator was charged with inciting sectarian struggle. Sameh Shehata, who is the brother of Father Makarius of Mallawi bishopric, was visiting his brother while a video was being taped of the unrest in Mallawi. He was later detained and will be tried before a military court on charges of taking part in demonstrations.


Anba Dimitrious told Watani that what was being propagated by Minya governor, some officials, and the media about there being a dispute over land was absolutely untrue, since the bishopric possessed all the documents to prove its ownership of the land, including the purchase documents and the real estate taxes it annually pays for the land. He condemned the propagation of such untruths since they go nowhere towards solving the problem, while they obscure the truth.

Anba Dimitrious also expressed his deep concern at the detention of Copts, and said this was a practice used by the security forces to pressure Copts into an official reconciliation where they would have to renounce their rights. “Copts have had to do that countless times before in order to rescue their sons, but the outcome was that culprits were never brought to justice. In case of Deir Abu-Fana, it is unacceptable that the people who savagely attacked it three times this year have not been caught. We demand that the culprits be caught and tried, and that the innocent Copts, especially the Fawzy brothers who were not even present when Mohamed was killed, be released.”


In Samalout, Minya, some 200 Copts demonstrated following the murder of a 25-year-old Copt, Milad Ibrahim, who was stabbed to death by Khamis Abdel-Hamid. The police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd. Even though the murder probably had no sectarian overtones since neighbours said that Ibrahim and Abdel-Hamid had an ongoing dispute, it is obvious that the sectarian inflammation is spilling over to several places.
The last incidents of violence against Copts—the last 10 days alone saw the murder of the Coptic jeweler in Zeitoun, the armed attack against a Coptic-owned jewelry shop in Alexandria, and the Deir Abu-Fana attack—came under fire from rights activists. Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (MARED) issued a declaration condemning the rampant fanaticism and the notorious security deficiency in dealing with the sectarian issues, “a deficiency which borders on collaboration,” the declaration stated. MARED demanded that the culprits should be caught and tried according to the criminal law.

Heaven’s comfort

On Friday morning, Pope Shenouda III who had been in Canada when the attack on the monastery occurred and who came back home on Wednesday, paid a visit to the monks at the hospital on Cairo. He stayed with them for some 15 minutes and expressed his grave concern over the incident, but declined to talk to the media.
In Deir Abu-Hennes, a Minya village a few kilometres away from Deir Abu-Fana, the villagers reported seeing halos of light as well as white pigeons flying from the tower of the church of the Holy Virgin in the village to that of the church of St George, also in the same village. The apparition continued from 9:00pm to 11:00pm, and the villagers interpreted it as an apparition of the Holy Virgin who is famous for appearing in the form of a pigeon. Father Timotheus of the Holy Virgin’s church directly informed Anba Dimitrious, and asked him to send over a fact-finding committee to verify the apparition. If true, which people strongly believe it is, it would be “Heaven sending us its comfort,” they say.

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