New Year begins with four Egyptian Christians murdered in three separate attacks

Egypt

Youssef Lamei, a 45-year-old Christian, was sitting outside his shop in Alexandria in the early hours of 3 January when a man crept up behind him and slit his throat whilst reportedly shouting “Allahu Akbar” [God is great]. The murder was recorded on CCTV. A suspect, 48-year-old Adel Suleiman, has been arrested. Youssef Lamei had run the shop, which sold alcohol amongst other things, for 40 years. 

According to reports, Adel Suleiman said to investigators, “I told him several times not to sell the alcohol but he did not listen to me.” Alcohol is forbidden to Muslims, according to sharia law. The national security department of Egypt confirmed that the murder was religiously motivated, saying, “The accused was not prompted by any political or criminal motives but had embraced takfiri thinking four years ago.”

The army, under instruction from President al-Sisi, has made repairs to the church in Cairo where the suicide bombing took place in December
The army, under instruction from President al-Sisi, has made repairs to the church in Cairo where the suicide bombing took place in December

Takfir is an Islamic term for the act of declaring a person to be a non-Muslim, or unbeliever (kafir), thus making them a legitimate target of jihad i.e. making it permissible to kill them. It is used by Islamist groups to sanction violence, most often against other Muslims whom they consider insufficiently devout. Normally Christians are protected from violence under sharia law on condition they submit to a raft of humiliating dhimmi rules and restrictions. Adel Suleiman may have considered that selling alcohol broke these rules. 

A few days later, on 6 January, when Christmas is celebrated in Egypt, Christian couple Gamal Sami, 60, and wife Nadia, 48, were found stabbed to death in their bed in the village of Tukh Dalakah, in the northern governorate of Monufia. According to police, two men known only as Mohammad M and Abd al-Aziz Q are being sought for the double murder. It is believed they did not know their victims. Nothing was stolen during the attack. 

In the third attack, on 13 January, Christian surgeon Dr. Bassam Safouat Zaki was found dead in his home, also with stab wounds. He lived in Assuit, some 230 miles south of Cairo.

The vulnerability of Christians in Egypt was sharply brought home last year with a number of attacks on churches and individuals, including the suicide attack at a church service in Cairo in December that killed 27. The New Year has barely begun and already these three unprovoked attacks have taken place.