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Up Close and Personal with the Families of the 21 Beheaded Copts


John Burger - published on 02/20/15 - updated on 06/07/17

Faith sustained their journeys to a dangerous land--Now it sustains their families

The 21 Egyptian men who were kidnapped and eventually beheaded on a beach in Libya knew they were living in danger. But they felt they had little choice other than to sojourn in the tumultuous country in order to send money home to their impoverished families.

Many went with a sense that God would look over them.

Now, their families are in greater poverty, knowing the men will never come home.

The World Post’s Middle East correspondent Sophia Jones visited grieving families in the village of Al Aour, about three hours south of Cairo, where 13 of the men had come from.

There was a “constant threat” of kidnapping and constant violence in Libya, said the widow of Hani Aziz, 32, who had been working in the tumultuous country for eight months. But Aziz needed the money to support 29-year-old Magda and their four children.

Like others, Yousef Shoukry, 24, put his trust in God. His mother, Theresa, told Jones that his faith gave him the courage to go to Libya in the face of danger. "I have one God, he’s the same here and there," she remembers Yousef saying.

ISIS in Libya, says Jones’ report, was “hell-bent on humiliating and harming” Christians.

While most of the people killed by the Islamic State have been Muslim, the group’s recent propaganda video made a point to threaten Christianity as a religion. The fact that the 21 men were Egyptian made them even more sought-out targets: citizens of a country cracking down on Islamists both within its own borders and inside Libya.

Some of the men called home at New Year’s, and some planned to travel home for the holiday. One family remembers telling their loved ones to lay low because Islamists would be targeting Christians at that time. The family thought he was safer staying put than traveling on the dangerous roads back to Egypt.

But only a couple of days later, the group was rounded up, one by one:

On Jan. 3 at around 2:30 a.m. in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, masked gunmen began knocking on doors, according to survivors. They were looking for Christians marked with traditional tattoos on their hands that identified them as Copts, an ancient Christian sect in Egypt. Some men were pulled from their beds at gunpoint. Others hid and prayed, only to later see their captured friends and family members decapitated in a widely circulated and highly produced Islamic State video.

Leila Fadel of NPR reported that one of the men, 19-year-old Abraham Bashr Aziz, managed to avoid getting kidnapped by ISIS. He saw the kidnapping of the men in Libya by ISIS militants last month.

"I heard it and I saw that from the window," Aziz said. "I heard them screaming, and I heard them asking about the Christians. They just came to kidnap the Christians."

The men met their end that day, but it was only last Sunday that the world found out about it, thanks to the slickly-produced video released that day that included a threat to the rest of the Christian world. Until then, the men’s families were hopeful. Bebawi Yousef, 34, had traveled to Cairo to talk on an Egyptian television show to raise awareness about his brother, 
Towadros Yousef, 42, and the other kidnapped Copts. Five minutes before going on air, he received the fateful call from his local priest.

"My condolences," Bebawi remembers him saying. "It’s over. They’ve passed."

Shoukry’s brother, Shenouda, forced himself watch the gruesome video.

"I saw that he had strength in his last moments," he said, insisting that there was a heavenly light shining on his brother’s face, even after he was decapitated. "And that consoled me."

Coptic ChristiansEgyptIslamist MilitantsLibya
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