Egyptian Christian Succumbs to Head Injury after Attack by Suspected Extremists in Libya

Young immigrant worker latest casualty of anti-Copt hostility in Libya.

Parts of Libya have become lawless since the 2011 uprising. (Wikipedia photo by Bernd Brincken)

Parts of Libya have become lawless since the 2011 uprising. (Wikipedia photo by Bernd Brincken)

ISTANBUL, Turkey  (Morning Star News) – An Egyptian Christian shot in the head by a suspected Islamic extremist in Libya on March 2 has succumbed to his injuries, family members said.

Salama Fawzy Tobia died very early in the morning on Saturday (March 15) in El Raey El Saleh Hospital in Samalut, Minya Province with his brother watching over him. He was 23.

His family had transported Tobia back to Egypt after the Egyptian government, on a doctor’s recommendation that he not be moved, refused to assist in returning him to his country. The injury to his brain essentially left him in a coma until he died. As he faded, his family sat a silent vigil over him in shifts.

“He wasn’t conscious of anything,” said his uncle, Noushy Saeed Tawfik. “He was clinically dead because most of his brain cells were dead, and what was left slowly died day by day until finally, his heart stopped beating.”

As is customary in much of the Middle East, Tobia was buried soon after death, later the same day, at a parish church in Samalut.

On March 2 in Benghazi, Libya at least one gunman ambushed Tobia while he loaded fruit and vegetables onto his produce stand. The attacker shot Tobia in the head and fled the scene. No one has claimed responsibility for the shooting, but suspicion fell heavily on the Islamic extremist Ansar al-Sharia militia movement, according to Egyptian human rights groups.

Tobia had lived in Libya for two years before he was shot. He moved to Libya shortly after he completed his service in the Egyptian Army. His uncle, Tawfik, described Tobia as being a gentle person.

“He was a peaceful person; he came into the world and left the world without hurting anyone,” he said.

The killing has devastated the Tobia family, but at the same time, his uncle said, it has caused them to rethink their lives.

“We had dry faith, and we needed something to bring us closer to God, to talk more to Him and repent,” Tawfik said. “And the death of Salama has made us pray to Him and confess all our sins. Sometimes when we are far away from God, God is patient and waits for us to confess our sins and come back. But sometimes He tests us.”

As Tawfik examines God’s forgiveness in his own life, he said, he knows he has to extend it to those who killed his nephew.

“I say to the people who killed them, ‘We still love you and we pray for your peace and for God to touch your hearts,’” he said. “We are not sure this message will reach them, but that’s what we have to say to the people who killed him.”

On Feb 23, a week before the shooting, suspected Islamic extremists with firearms took seven Egyptian Christians from their apartment homes, shot them “execution style” and dumped their bodies in a field in eastern Benghazi, according to local security officials. During the abduction, the gunmen specifically asked for Christians who lived in the apartment complex and rounded up those who admitted they were Christian.

Afterward, Christians living nearby found graffiti painted on the walls of the apartment complex and on buildings in the area urging people to turn Christians over to the militia movement. A reward of 10,000 Libyan dinars (US$7,880) was offered for each Christian turned in.

The killing of Tobia was one in a long string of incidents of persecution against Christians, especially Egyptian Christians, since the regime of Muammar Gaddafi collapsed after his death on Oct. 20, 2011. In February 2013, an Islamist militia called the Preventative Security Unit arrested seven expatriate Christians, including four Egyptians, and held them in prison. At least two of the Egyptian Christians were tortured, including Ezzat Hakim Atallah, 45, who died on March 10, 2013.

On Feb. 26, 2013, militia members in Benghazi rounded up roughly 50 Coptic Orthodox Christians, accused them of preaching to Muslims and detained them for about a week. The captors abused many of those they held, and after Coptic Christians protested at the Libyan embassy in Cairo, an Islamic militia attacked a Coptic Orthodox Church building in Benghazi, along with the presiding priest and his assistant, on Feb. 28, 2013. Both suffered minor injuries.

On Sept. 25, 2013, Muslims robbed Waleed Saad Shaker, 25, and Nash’at Shenouda Ishaq, 27, in Derna District in northeastern Libya. The assailants tied up the Egyptian Christians and shot them to death after the two Copts refused their demand to convert to Islam, relatives said.

The family of Tobia had brought him closer to Al Sheikh Talata village in Minya Province so they could be near him when he died. His brother, Karam Fawzy Tobia, previously told Morning Star News that they would accept God’s will for him.

“If He wants him to live on Earth, we will be happy,” he’d said. “If it is His will to take him to heaven, we will accept this.”

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