CAIRO/TRIPOLI (BosNewsLife)-- Christians in Libya have been plunged into mourning after a young Egyptian couple and their teenage daughter were reportedly killed for their Christian faith by suspected Islamic militants.
Magdy Sobhy Tawfiq, Sahar Talaat Rizk, and 13-year-old Catherine died last week in the Libyan city of Sirte -- halfway between the capital Tripoli and Benghazi -- where they lived since 2001, according to family members.
Their human remains were expected in their home country Egypt on Tuesday, December 30, where a special prayer service was to be held in Mar Girgis Church in the Abu Naga area of Tanta city.
Magdy and Sahar were reportedly killed in the early morning hours of Tuesday, December 23 at the doctor's housing complex in Sirte where the Coptic Christian family stayed with Catherine and two younger daughters, aged 10 and nine. Catherine was taken from the family's home and her body was found in the desert outside the city on Christmas Day, December 25, added Christians familiar with the situation.
Rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) quoted Sahar Talaat Rizk's brother as saying that the Coptic Christian couple moved from Egypt to Libya in 2001, just shortly after they were married on July 20, 2000. "Magdy worked for two years at a Diabetes Clinic in Sirte before transferring to the Jarf Health Center" explained the brother, Tamer Talaat Rizk.
Though local people appreciated their medical work and free lectures given to students, militant Muslims threatened the family, added Michael Talaat Rizk, another of Sahar's brothers.
The couple was increasingly concerned about their safety "especially after their oldest daughter Catherine was threatened with death if she did not wear a veil," he added in published remarks.
"Some Islamic militants belonging to the Ansar Al-Sharia extremist group demanded that
Catherine not go out from her home without wearing the veil and threatened her that they are going to kill her if she did not wear a veil," Michael Talaat Rizk claimed.
Despite the dangers, managers and local authorities allegedly declined to give Magdy Sobhy Tawfiq his passport and other necessary travel papers to leave Libya as his contract was not yet finished.
Soon it was too late to leave. "At 4:00 am on Tuesday, December 23, Doctor Magdy woke up to the knock on the door of the housing building," Samir Sobhy Tawfiq, Magdy's brother recalled. "He likely thought that there was a patient with an urgent case and was in need his help, but after opening the door, he found some armed masked men. The men attacked him and handcuffed him and put him into a chair."
He said he had traveled to Sirte to care for the two youngest daughters who witnessed the incident.
"Sahar pleaded with the men to take the family's money (6,000 Libyan dinar or $4,500 USD) and jewelry and leave them alive, but money was not the reason they had come. Sahar then ran into the room to protect the three girls."
However, "They then entered the children's room and shot and killed Sahar there. Then they abducted Catherine, leaving the other two children behind. They also dragged Magdy outside and shot and killed him in front of the door of the Health Unit. They put Catherine into their car and fled," Samir said in comments published by ICC.
Magdy Sobhy Tawfiq bloodied body was found still handcuffed after he'd been shot and killed, according to a photo seen by BosNewsLife.
Daughter Catherine was found in the Libyan desert on Thursday, December 25, Samir added. "She was shot three times, twice in the head and once in the chest."
He said militants killed them "because they are Christians, they killed them because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ".
However, "My sister, her husband, and their daughter Catherine were martyred on the Name of Jesus Christ and that is the only thing that comforts us. We are sure that they are in the heaven now because they kept the faith and didn't deny the Lord Jesus Christ."
The attack was clearly not a robbery and was likely motivated by religion, confirmed local council chairman Yussef Tebeiqa in separate remarks to reporters. "Money left on the table and the wife's jewelry left at the crime scene were not touched."
The latest incident underscores growing extremism across Libya with Christians often being targeted by Islamist groups, according to rights investigators.
While the Christian family was attacked, a new United Nations report expressed concern over human rights abuses and the volatile security situation in Libya. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya condemned the attacks.
"These heinous murders, apparently committed for religious motives by unidentified gunmen, are totally rejected by the Libyan people and are alien to their tradition of tolerance towards religious minorities and hospitality extended to foreign guests," the Mission said in a statement issued Wednesday, December 24.
Coptic officials also condemned the violence and urged Egypt's government to improve protection of Christians. Fady Youssef, founder of Coalition of Coptic Egypt, said the Egypt's government had shown "passiveness, inaction, indifference and disregard for the rights of Egyptians abroad, particularly in Libya."
Tamer, Sahar's brother, also urged for government officials to apprehend those responsible, but also was encouraged by his faith. "I urge the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to demand the Libyan authorities to quickly investigate into this brutal crime and arrest the killers quickly and bring them to the justice," he said. "But I ask God to bring the rights of the martyrs. I trust Him, He is a just God."
As Libya, continues to be torn apart by militant Islamist groups fighting, "it is not just about claims of power, but also imposing their religious ideology and driving out or killing those who do not conform to their dictates," ICC commented.