According to latest reports, the number of Christian families who have been driven from the city of al-Arish in North Sinai has swollen to 259, as Islamic State militants continue their violent conquest of the region.
Fleeing Coptic Christians have been scattered among 13 different provinces, according to the Department for Social Solidarity of the governorate in the Sinai Peninsula.
The exodus began as a reaction to a spate of violent attacks on Christians in recent weeks, including the brutal shooting, burning and beheading of seven people in the region and the torching of a number of houses.
In an interview with Vatican Radio Monday, Father Samir Khalil Samir, professor of Islamic studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, said that “the jihadists want to clean out the entire Sinai Peninsula to make a new land of conquest. Since losing ground in Syria and Iraq, then seek refuge in Sinai to continue their fight.”
The small community of Egyptian Christians living there “provides a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone,” Father Samir said. The militants can “recuperate all of Sinai and combat Christians” at the same time.
Local Islamic terrorist groups of the Sinai Peninsula have allied themselves with the Islamic state and called for attacks against the Christian minority throughout Egypt, but the violence has been especially concentrated in Sinai.
In a video posted online, a local jihadist leader appealed to militants from all over the world for new attacks against the Egyptian government and the release of some jihadist militants who have been captured.
Last December 11, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Coptic Christian church in Cairo, killing 29 victims and wounding dozens more. The Islamic State took credit for the attack, which took place on a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
Although Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has asked the competent authorities to provide maximum support to the displaced Christian families from Sinai, the country is in the midst of a serious economic downturn caused by the devaluation of the lira and the collapse of tourism.
In a climate of growing tension relating to religious freedom, in Minya (Upper Egypt) Sunday, security forces prevented Copts of the village of Ezbet Nakhla from opening the Mar Mina church to celebrate Sunday Mass. Officials justified the measure saying that there have been threats of new violence against Christians by jihadist groups in the area.
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