Two young Coptic Christian boys have recounted the horrific tale of how Muslim extremists in the Minya province of Egypt brutally murdered their father in front of them after he refused to deny Christ and embrace Islam.
Ayad, a Coptic Christian, had planned to take his two boys, Mina (10) and Marco (14), on a trip to Saint Samuel to show them his work as a skilled laborer earlier this year.
However, on their way to the monastery, a group of Muslim extremists attacked a bus full of Christian visitors on the road in front of them. Not knowing the attack was underway, Ayad drove ahead — and his vehicle, too, was attacked.
“My dad was driving the pick-up truck, and some of his colleagues took a ride with us. We were on the road towards the monastery. Then we heard shouting,” Mina told Open Doors USA.
The attackers pulled all of the men from the bus and told them to deny Christ and confess Islam as their religion. If they refused, they were shot.
“The terrorist shouted he had to convert to Islam. But my father said no. Then they shot him,” Mina said, putting his hands on his chest, “This is where they hit them,” then he tapped his legs, “And here as well.”
“And in his arms,” Marco added.
As each man stepped out of the car, he was ordered to convert to Islam. Each refused, sacrificing their lives for their faith.
The boys, who dove behind the benches when they heard the shouting, were then discovered by the terrorists. One of them shot at the boys but missed when another attacker said, “No, let them live to tell the story.”
Then the terrorists left, leaving the boys with the dead bodies.
“We didn’t know what to do. We wanted to get help, but we didn’t have mobile reception. I never drove a car before, but I told my brother to get in the pick-up truck so we could find a place to call our mother,” Marco told Open Doors.
Although he could barely hit the gas pedals, Marco managed to drive the vehicle to a place where they could use the phone. Then they drove back to the scene of the murders, where their father lay bleeding.
“My father was still breathing,” said Marco. “He couldn’t talk anymore, but he wiggled his fingers, signing us to go away. But we didn’t want to leave him there.”
The boys tried to lift their father to put him in the pick-up truck to get help, but they weren’t strong enough to lift him.
“Then I put my father on my chest,” Marco said. “Soon my clothes were soaked with his blood, but I didn’t care.”
Soon after, Ayad died from his injuries. Today, Marco and Mina and their sister live with their mother. The boys told Open Doors they frequently talk about what happened — and the horrific images go through their minds on the daily basis.
Asked if he still has nightmares, Mina said, “Yes.”
His mother added, “Mina is the one I worry about most. He has become very fearful since the incident. He doesn’t dare to go out alone anymore. This wound he will have to carry for the rest of his life.”
The April 2017 attack, later claimed by ISIS, killed at least 26 Coptic Christians and wounded another 23. The dead included children, older adults and laborers.
In an earlier interview with the Washington Post, survivors of attack recounted how, after the militants boarded the bus, they asked the Christians to “either recite the Islamic shahada creed, live as practicing Muslims, or be killed.”
Defying their attackers, the passengers began to pray. “The more we prayed for Christ, the angrier they became and started shooting again and more violently,” on survivor, Boshra, said.
“We told them that we are Christians and we will die Christians,” said another survivor, Adly.
“We forgive them,” survivor Shokry said about the attackers. “I pray God touches their hearts and changes them so that they see the right path.”
The bus attack was just one of many incidents in rising violence targeting the country’s minority Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population. Also in April, twin bombings of Coptic churches on Palm Sunday left 49 dead.
Last month, a Coptic Orthodox priest was slaughtered in the street by a Muslim extremist, identified as 19-year-old Ahmad Saeed Ibrahim al-Sonbati.
Open Doors said priest Samaan Shehata was “attacked with a cleaver” when he was visiting Cairo for a conference.
The group, quoting local press, said the killer had been looking for “any priest” to kill when he stumbled across Mr Shehata.
Open Doors said: “al-Sonbati had decided to kill any Coptic priest, purchased a dagger and lay in wait for one to pass by in a street leading to the local church. He reportedly blocked Shehata’s vehicle when it passed by and forced him to get out.”
Coptic Bishop Angaelos of the United Kingdom condemned the murder and called on the Egyptian government to do more to protect the country’s minorities.
He said: “Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”
Egypt is ranked 21st on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution, and has received the maximum score in the violence category.