Egypt Christian Woman "Kidnapped" by Muslim Militants, Contacts Family

is being held in a Cairo apartment and forced to convert to Islam.

The situation of 19-year old Theresa Ghattass Kamal, who disappeared over a month ago, has underscored international concern over kidnappings of Coptic girls throughout Egypt.      

Last seen in the village of El-Saff 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Cairo on January 3, she apparently briefly contacted her aunt on January 24 saying she had not "yet succumbed" to her unknown captors’ demands "that she become a Muslim," her brother Sa’eed Ghattass Kamal was quoted as saying by Compass Direct, a Christian news agency.

Her phone call contradicted earlier police statements that she had converted to Islam "voluntarily" and did not want to see her family again, the news agency said. Police reportedly made the claims last month following a three-day protest by clergy and lay members of the Coptic Orthodox church demanding her return.

NO RECORDS

Further investigation by Sa’eed Kamal revealed that no official records of his sister’s conversion existed at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Islamic center, Compass Direct said. Egyptian law requires that all conversions be registered at Al-Azhar and then validated with the security police, the State Security Investigation (SSI).

The Kamal family allegedly traced the origination point of the 19-year-old woman’s call to an apartment in Cairo’s Shubra district owned by Muslim Mostafa Mahmood Ali. A local priest who asked not to be named for security reasons told reporters that Ali’s house was “a dangerous place, full of fundamentalists.”

Originally from the village of Wadi El-Natroun 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Cairo,  Kamal was living in a church-owned apartment for women in the town of Giza and taking courses at the Secretarial Academy in old Cairo.

MUSLIM FATHER

Her father converted to Islam in 1995 and her mother died in 2003, leaving her and her four adult siblings on their own, Compass Direct claimed. She apparently was kidnapped by Muslims early January while traveling from a Coptic priest with arranging national and student identity cards.  

When his sister had not returned home by January 6, Sa’eed Kamal traveled to Giza and the priest's town of El-Saff to find her. But police in both towns allegedly refused to file a missing person report sending him back to his sister's home village Wadi El-Natroun. However police officials there were reluctant to cooperate and reportedly threatened to arrest some of the priests protesting against the police inaction between January 11-January 13.

Unless the convert is under 18, the legal age for conversion, police can refuse to recover the missing woman by claiming that she does not want to see her family, Compass Direct added.

CHRISTIAN GIRLS

While some Christian girls romanced by young Muslim men voluntarily leave their families and convert to Islam to escape poverty or unhappy family situations, many are forced into accepting another religion, rights groups say. The United States has expressed concern about the situation.

"There were credible reports of government harassment of Christian families that attempted to regain custody of their daughters," the US State Department said in its recent human rights report on Egypt. "The law states that a marriage of a girl under the age of 16 is prohibited. Between the ages of 16 and 21, marriage is illegal without the approval and presence of her guardian. [However] the authorities also sometimes failed to uphold the law in cases of marriage between underage Christian girls and Muslim boys," the State Department added.

Coptic Christians comprise up to 6 percent of Egypt's population of nearly 78 million, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In December 2004, thousands of Coptic Christians in Cairo reportedly protested when Wafaa Constantin, the wife of an Orthodox priest in Bahayrah province, supposedly converted to Islam and eloped with a Muslim man. Constantin was returned to church custody by Egyptian security forces. (With reports from Egypt).

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