Egyptian Christians Forgive Attacker Who Killed 25 In Cairo Bombing
Coptic Christians who survived the deadly church bombing in Cairo on December 11 have said they forgive their attacker, and are ready to die themselves for their faith.
Speaking to International Christian Concern (ICC), the relatives of some of the 25 people who were killed at the church of St Peter and St Paul spoke openly of the attack.
Wagdy Anis lost his wife in the bombing. "I want to send a message to those that killed my wife," he said. "I forgive him, and I pray for him and the people who are like him. That God may lighten their minds and open their vision."
Amad Saad Aziz's sister was also killed. He said: "To my martyred sister I say, 'I love you so much and I want to be like you.' To you who killed my sister I say, 'we are ready for martyrdom.'"
Egypt has an estimated population of nine million Christians. Mostly Orthodox Copts, they account for about 10 per cent of Egypt's population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.
Tensions between Christians and Muslims have intensified in the country since the 2011 Arab Spring, and recent months have also seen the assault on homes of Christian families in the village of Karm el Loofy, the burning of a kindergarten run by Christians in Minya, and the murder on June 30 of Rafael Moussa, a Coptic Orthodox priest of the church of St. George.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the December 11 attack via its news agency. It identified the bomber as Abu Abdallah al-Masri, who it said had detonated an explosive belt inside the church.
"Every infidel and apostate in Egypt and everywhere should know that our war... continues," the statement from the militant group said.
Egyptian authorities identified the bomber as 22-year-old Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed Mustafa, who had a history of affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another member of the church who survived the attack, Raymond Wadih, told ICC that Egypt's Christian community remained strong, despite persecution.
"This has not weakened us," he said. "On the contrary, this gives us more love for our country than before and we will not leave Egypt. We were born here, we grew up here and we will die here."
Wadih, who lost his mother in the attack, said he and his wife, their three children and his parents were all inside the church attending mass at the time of the incident.
A deacon at the church, Tony Takla, claimed the bomber had visited the previous evening and asked to meet the priests.
"We had just finished with a prayer meeting and were standing by the front door when a man carrying a black case came towards us. He said he was [a] Muslim hoping to learn about Christianity... he asked us to allow him to enter the church to see the church form the inside and to meet any one of the church's priests."
Takla said the man was turned away because the church was closed, but they invited him to return for mass the following day.
They recognised his image when the man was announced as the suicide bomber on the news.
Father Michael Fahmy of St Mark's Cathedral, which is attached to the church of St Peter and St Paul, told ICC that the "Coptic Church... is a church of martyrs".
"We still present martyrs everyday," he said. "Victims who are killed only because they are Christians."