An Egyptian court in Minya sentenced a Muslim man to death for the killing and wounding of six Christians. Judge Mahmoud Salama pronounced the sentenced against 29-year-old policeman Amer Ashour Abdel-Zaher. During its previous session, the court had referred the case to the Egyptian Grand Mufti, as is usual with a death penalty verdict, who supported the court’s decision. The court session was to pronounce the verdict.
In December, 2010 Abdel-Zaher, who worked as a policeman at the Bani Mazar police investigations unit, went on a train bound for Cairo from Assiut in the upper Egyptian town of Samalut and fired his gun at six Copts after chanting “Allahu Akbar”.
According to eye-witnesses, he walked up and down the train car, looking for passengers with the sign of the cross tattooed on their wrist, which the majority of Copts have, or any other sign revealing their Christian identity. He aimed at six Copts sitting together, dressed in western-style clothes and singing Christian hymns. He opened fire on them, killing a 71-year-old Fathy Ghattas, who died immediately as he slept. Another five Copts were seriously injured including the murdered man’s wife, Emily Hanna, who underwent an operation to remove her left kidney and spleen. Another Coptic woman, Sabah Saniod, 54, underwent an operation on her liver. Three young Copts, Marianne, Maggie and her fiance Ashraf were severely wounded and were and taken by helicopter to a Cairo hospital. Abdel-Zaher attempted to escape but was apprehended by a passenger.
The Egyptian interior Ministry issued several statements to cover-up the sectarian motives behind the incident and said the assailant shot indiscriminately at passengers and was “mentally unstable” and had previously undergone medical treatment.
The verdict came as a surprise to the Egyptian Christians, as “usually killers of Christians, literally get away with murder,” commented Coptic activist Mark Ebeid. “They are usually referred to hospital for being ‘mentally unstable’ and after the matter has died down, they are just quietly discharged from hospital for being cured and this is usually the end of the story for the families of victims.”
Coptic activist Mina Yacoub, of the Maspero Coptic Youth Federation, was less optimistic. He said the ruling is because of this week’s Egyptian presidential elections, where Islamists are hoping to get some of the Coptic votes and are trying to prove to them that “Islam is a ‘just religion’ and they have nothing to worry about with the application of Sharia, which they are advocating. Why has the death penalty never been passed on a Muslim for killing a Christian, it is because Islam plainly says in Hadith 9:50, 57 ‘No umma [a member of Muslim community] should be killed for killing a Kafir [infidel]‘ and this has been applied diligently by judges.”
Referring to the death penalty passed in January 2011 on Muslim Hammam el-Kamouni, who shot dead six Copts as they left church on Coptic Christmas Eve on January 6, 2010 in Nag Hammadi, he explained that with the six murdered Copts was a Muslim policeman who died by mistake and this death penalty was in lieu of his blood. (AINA)