By Mark Ellis —
The kidnapping and forced marriage of Coptic Christian girls to Muslims has reached an all-time high in Egypt, according to a report by World Watch Monitor (WWM).
“I remember a Coptic Christian girl from a rich, well-known family in Minya. She was kidnapped by five Muslim men. They held her in a house, stripped her and filmed her naked. In the video, one of them also undressed. They threatened to make the video public if the girl wouldn’t marry him,” Ahmed* reported to WWM.
Ahmed was in a network that kidnapped Christian girls for years before he left Islam. He says the incidence of such kidnapping is now at an all-time high.
“Salafist networks began in the seventies and it’s reached its highest levels now, in the era of President Sisi… A group of kidnappers meets in a mosque to discuss potential victims. They keep a close eye on Christians’ houses and monitor everything that’s going on. On that basis, they weave a spider’s web around [the girls],” he told WWM.
Their tactics may involve duplicitous romantic overtures. “A Muslim boy tells a Christian girl he loves her and wants to convert to Christianity for her,” Ahmed explains. “They start a romantic relationship until one day they decide to ‘escape’ together. What the girls don’t know is that they are actually being kidnapped. Most of the time they will not marry their kidnapper, but someone else.”
In the last few months there were two kidnappings within two days.
Using this unsavory love ploy, Marilyn, 16, was kidnapped from her village in Minya province, her family priest, Father Boutros Khalaf told WWM.
She disappeared June 28th. “Her mother searched everywhere but couldn’t find her. Some people told us that she had been kidnapped by a young man named Taha. He had taken her to a farm where he works,” Father Khalaf said.
An Egyptian researcher confirmed the account to WWM: “Marilyn was seduced by a recruit of a Salafi organisation. She was involved in a love affair; he was then able to convince her to run away with him. Marilyn isn’t 18 yet. So even if she had agreed to go with Taha, in our law this is clearly a case of kidnapping a minor.”
The day before, 15-year-old Neveen Sawiris was forced into a car by two men as she walked along a street in Cairo. Her 38-year-old kidnapper later confessed he forged papers to indicate she is over-18 and married her.
He was charged with kidnapping a minor, forgery, and inciting sectarian strife.
Kidnappers paid by Islamic organizations
Ahmed says the kidnappers receive large amounts of money. “Police can help them in different ways, and when they do, they might also receive a part of the financial reward the kidnappers are paid by the Islamic organizations.
“In some cases, police provide the kidnappers with drugs they seize. The drugs are then given to the girls to weaken their resistance as they put them under pressure. I even know of cases in which police helped to beat up the girls to make them recite the Islamic creed.
“The value of the reward increases whenever the girl has a position. For example, when she is the daughter of a priest or comes from a well-known family.”
The girls are often hidden in rented apartments. “The Salafist group I knew rented
apartments in different areas of Egypt to hide kidnapped Coptic girls,” Ahmed says. “There, they put them under pressure and threaten them to convert to Islam. And once they reach the legal age, a specially arranged Islamic representative comes in to make the conversion official, issue a certificate and accordingly they change their ID.”
Marilyn’s father, Medhat Saad Edward, has been frustrated in his attempts to find his daughter: “I filed a report in two police stations, and I gave the names of the kidnappers and the place where they hid my daughter. But the police haven’t arrested them. They didn’t even get in touch with Taha’s brother, who lives in the village and is in touch with Taha.”
In contrast, a Muslim girl kidnapped for ransom in Balansora in the same time period was followed by police and released within 24 hours.
“Kidnappers of Christian girls rarely get arrested or brought to the prosecution,” Ahmed notes. “For instance, the police don’t report it as a kidnap but say the girl ‘went missing’. This way they cover up the crimes of those they see as their ‘Muslim brothers’.”
“If all goes to plan, the girls are also forced into marriage with a strict Muslim,” Ahmed told WWM. “Their husbands don’t love them, they just marry her to make her a Muslim. She will be hit and humiliated. And if she tries to escape, or convert back to her original religion, she will be killed.
“The most shocking thing is some girls find out that they are a second wife and are treated like animals. Some are sent to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to work as domestic servants and they are exploited sexually and are seriously physically abused.”
An Egyptian researcher confirmed the problem to WWM. “[These kidnaps] are something that happens in Egypt almost on a daily basis. But in 80% of cases, families prefer not to speak publicly to avoid shame which will make their other daughters less eligible to find a good marriage partner.”
Marilyn’s family priest, Father Khalaf reports that the prosecution dropped her case on August 14th. “We’ve done everything we could to get our girl back. We even sent a complaint to President Sisi, the Interior Minister and many other important people,” he told WWM.
“Her family lives in bitterness and pain, and we don’t know what to do anymore. There is also a state of terror, panic and fear among all the Christians in our village. They worry about their children. No father will allow his daughter to walk on the street alone anymore. He goes with her or sends her mother or brother to accompany her.”
Kidnappers paid $3,000 per girl by Islamic organizations
Another Coptic priest, Father ‘S’, in Minya governorate, Upper Egypt has been working to return kidnap victims to their families. His 14-year-old daughter was almost kidnapped in 2011 during the ‘first’ revolution, when men broke into his house.
He grabbed his gun and shot in the air twice. “The kidnappers got scared and ran away,” he told WWM.
He says in his area of Minya alone, about 15 girls go missing every year. Only eight have been recovered. “Every girl who doesn’t return feels like a daughter I am losing,” he says.
Father ‘S’ says kidnappers target vulnerable girls who may have an absent father. “They are an easy target. Girls should find love at home and in their church. This makes them less vulnerable.”
“We pray for these [kidnapped] girls in church, while our tears flow. I pray also for their kidnappers, that God touches their hearts.”
The Minya priest is in contact with sources close to the kidnapping groups. They tell him that for the kidnappers this is often a job, and that they get paid about $3,000 per girl if they deliver them to an extremist organization.
The kidnappers will hide underage girls until their 18th birthday.
While many kidnappers are motivated by money, the overall objective is to strengthen Islam and weaken Christianity. “The networks have tens of thousands of members and are financed by wealthy Muslims, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Sometimes they also loot or steal from Christian companies to finance their plans,” Ahmed says.
* name changed for security reasons