By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)-- Rights activists have urged Egypt's government to increase the security of Christians and other minorities after a 50-year-old Coptic Orthodox priest from Upper Egypt was stabbed to death, and another was wounded, by a suspected Islamic militant.
Samaan Shahata Rizkallah was chased and repeatedly stabbed in the head, neck, and abdomen by a man wielding a meat cleaver, who also imprinted a cross on his forehead, Christians said.
An ambulance arrived at the scene an hour later and transported him to a hospital, where he died Thursday, October 12, BosNewsLife learned. Another priest, Beymen Moftah of El-Malak Church in Matay, who was with Samaan, was also attacked but reportedly survived his injuries.
A suspect was said to be in custody Monday, October 16. In a statement, Bishop Astafanous of Fashn, Biba and Samasta called the alleged killer an "extremist" with a criminal record, naming him as Ahmed-El Sonbaty.
It was no isolated incident. Violence against Egypt's Christian community surged in recent months, with over 100 deaths reported
since December 2016 in a series of attacks that have been claimed by the Islamic State group, according to Christians familiar with the
On October 5, police reportedly defused an explosive device found in a car near Al-Masara Church in the Rod El-Farag area of Cairo, the capital. Egypt's government has pledged to combat extremism.
"While we recognize the efforts of the Egyptian government to combat extremism, we encourage it to consider longer-term security arrangements to guarantee the safety of all civilians," said Mervyn Thomas, the chief executive of advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Thomas stressed that protection should be extended especially to "religious minorities, who are particularly vulnerable to extremists’ attacks." It is also vital, "that the inordinate delay" in the arrival of the ambulance following the attack "is investigated, as this may have had a bearing on Father Samaan's demise," he said.
Thomas added in a statement to BosNewsLife that CSW had extended its "deepest condolences to the family" of the priest and "his community and to his church."
Priest Samaan served at St. Julius' church in Ezbet Girgis in the al-Fashn area of Beni Suef governorate, a village that is home to
some 3,000 people, including 2,000 Christians.
In 2009, he applied for a permit to construct a new church on land owned by Christians who had offered to demolish their old homes, prompting protests from local Muslims, Christians said.
The church was eventually built, but in September 2015 Samaan was briefly detained and interrogated by police after performing "much-needed renovations" on the church, according to activists.
"It is also very important in this context that the government removes all remaining obstacles to the construction and renovation of churches to ensure that such legitimate and peaceful activities no longer serve as excuses for harassment or attacks on Christian communities," CSW's Thomas told BosNewsLife.
He said "all incidents involving sectarian violence" should be "addressed in a court of law as opposed to through customary reconciliation sessions.”