Kidnappers are increasingly targeting Christians in a southern province in Egypt. More than 150 Christians, including children, have been kidnapped for ransom in Minya province over the past two years. Many Christians live in this province, along with some of Egypt’s most radical Islamists.
The most recent widely reported case is that of Ezzat Kromer, a Christian gynecologist and father of three, who was abducted as he drove home from his practice in the village of Nazlet el-Amoden. A masked gunman fired a round between his feet as he sat behind the wheel of his car and said with chilling calm, “The next one will go into your heart.”
Kromer says he was bundled into his abductors’ vehicle, forced to lie under their feet in the back seat for a 45-minute ride and dumped into a small cold room while his kidnappers contacted his family for a ransom. For the next 27 hours, he endured beatings, insults and threats to his life while blindfolded, a bandage sealing his mouth and cotton balls in his ears. The next day, his family paid 270,000 Egyptian pounds, nearly $40,000, to a middleman and he was released.
“I cannot begin to tell you how horrifying that experience was,” said Kromer. His left cheek where he was punched multiple times is still sore, as is his index finger, which one kidnapper repeatedly bent back, threatening to break it.
He says he was left with the feeling that, as a Christian, Egypt is no longer for him. He has abandoned his profitable practice in Nazlet el-Amoden and is making preparations to move to Australia. “My wife would not even discuss leaving Egypt. Now she is on board,” he said. “There are consequences to Islamist rule,” he continued. “Things are bad now. What is coming will certainly be worse.”
Church leaders say the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood is partly to blame, because criminals are emboldened by the preaching of Islamist clerics who declare Christians are second-class citizens. The Brotherhood was directly implicated in the kidnapping and torturing of a Christian protester, who was brought from the group’s headquarters to a mosque that was being used as a jail cell.
Christians rarely report the kidnappings because they do not believe the police will help them. One priest says local officials do not prosecute Muslims accused of attacking Christian homes and churches, and that encourages more crime.
Responding to the allegations that authorities do not aggressively investigate crimes against Christians, Minya’s security chief, Ahmed Suleiman, blamed it on the fact that the victims’ families negotiate with kidnappers rather than report the abductions. “We cannot be held responsible for kidnappings that are not reported to us,” he said, blaming hardened criminals for the kidnappings.
Essam Khairy, a spokesman for the hard-line Islamist group Gamaa Islamiya in Minya, said “There is not a single case of Christian kidnapping that has a sectarian motive or linked to the Islamist groups.”
He said that the way to stop kidnappings is to create popular committees, vigilante groups such as the one that Gamaa Islamiya has been promoting since a spate of strikes in the police last month. These Islamist paramilitary groups solidify the grip of the Brotherhood under the guise of law enforcement. A female protester was attacked on Egyptian Women’s Day by one of the militiamen.
also say they are seeing an increase in the disappearance of Christian underage
girls, who are later found out to have converted to Islam and married Muslim
men. They accuse conservative clerics of encouraging this type of conversion.