Egyptian photo-journalist Jonathan Rashad visited the village that was home to 13 of the 21 Egyptian Christians murdered by Islamic State (ISIS) in February 2015.
Between agony and happiness, the village of Al-Aour in the Egyptian governorate of Minya has witnessed thirteen Egyptian young men growing up — the majority of the 21 Egyptian Christians recently beheaded by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya.
As the video of their execution went viral all over the internet, it reached the village on the same day. The screams of women and children echoed through the village. Yet, amidst the sadness of their loss, most of the village inhabitants told me they were happy that their loved ones had died as martyrs for Jesus Christ.
The ISIS video had shown that “Lord Jesus!” were the last words on the lips of several of those killed and Pope Tawadros, the head of the Egyptian Coptic Christian community, said on Tuesday (17 Feb) that “what happened to [the 21] was not death but they were martyrs of the faith. They kept their faith to the end.”
“I am happy for my relatives,” said Bishop Feloubes Fawzy, 43, who lost his nephew and four of his cousins in the killings. “They had faith in Jesus Christ. And that is what matters. They died for their faith. They died for Christianity.”
Milad Ibrahim, 27, had been with the group in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, Libya on 3 January when they were abducted. He recalled how, around 2 am, masked gunmen had knocked on the door of the dormitory of Egyptian workers next to his. “We came for the Christians. Stay away!” he heard through the closed door to the dormitory where his two cousins had been sleeping.
The 21 victims were labourers who travelled overland by vehicles all the way to Libya to feed their families. The journey from Minya to Sirte is around 1,200 miles, which takes at least one entire day. According to Shenouda Shokry, a farmer who twice went to Libya for work and a brother of Youssef Shokry – one of the 21 killed – Egyptian workers may have to pay an initial fee of EGP 8,000 (around $US1,050) to get a Libyan visa and return flight ticket.
In memory of the victims, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced plans to build a new church for their relatives in the village. Around 2,500 of the village’s 6,000 residents belong to the Christian community.
Photos and text (c) Jonathan Rashad