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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Murder of Christian Priest Killed in 'Hail of Bullets' After Leaving Church in Egypt

( [email protected] ) Jul 01, 2016 10:41 AM EDT
The Islamic State terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the murder of a Coptic Christian priest who was killed in "a hail of bullets" outside The Church of the Martyr of St. George in Sinai, Egypt on Thursday.
Coptic Christians in Los Angeles, California, protest against deadly clashes in Cairo, Egypt. AP Photo

The Islamic State terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the murder of a Coptic Christian priest who was killed in "a hail of bullets" outside The Church of the Martyr of St. George in Sinai, Egypt on Thursday.

According to RT,  Rev. Raphael Moussa, 46, had left mass at his church and was standing outside a car repair shop when a masked gunman walked up and shot him. The assailant also reportedly threatened witnesses before fleeing.

ISIS took responsibility for the killing, referring to Father Moussa as a "disbelieving combatant." However, the terrorist group did not provide further justification for his murder, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of more than 90 million people, have long complained of discrimination in the predominantly Muslim country, and the murder of Rev. Moussa is the latest in a string of attacks on the religious group in northern Sinai.

Church officials told the New York Times that since 2013, eight members of their church have died at the hands of Muslim extremists. The violence has caused some Christians to leave the area for Cairo and other cities, said the Rev. Boules Haliem, a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox church.

Sectarian violence also frequently erupts over interfaith relationships, as Christian men cannot marry Muslim women in Egypt unless they convert to Islam first, but Muslim men can marry Christian women. In May, a Muslim mob stripped a Christian woman and paraded her naked through the streets after rumors spread that the woman's son had been involved with a Muslim woman.

In 2013, members of the Muslim Brotherhood tore down a number of churches belonging to Coptic Christians following the ousting of then-President Mohammed Morsi. According to reports, over 60 Christian structures in Egypt were burned and destroyed during that time.

Egypt is 22nd on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.

"The large Coptic minority, while facing important difficulties, has been tolerated because of its historical presence and its demographic size," reads the report. "In recent years this has changed, however, causing historical Christian communities to be targeted as well."

Because of growing violence against Christians in the region, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last month recommended that the US State Department add Egypt to its list of "countries of particular concern", where "particularly severe violations of religious freedom are perpetrated or tolerated".