Between agony and happiness, the village of Al-Aour in the Egyptian governorate of Minya received the news that thirteen of its sons were among the twenty-one Egyptian Christians recently beheaded by the Islamic State (IS) organization in Libya. Women and children’s screams echoed through the village.
On 3 January 2015 around 2 a.m. in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, masked gunmen knocked on the door of a dormitory of Egyptian workers. "We came for the Christians. Stay away," they said, according to Milad Ibrahim, who witnessed the abduction of his two cousins behind closed doors in an adjacent dormitory.
The twenty-one victims were workers who had travelled by vehicles all the way to Libya to find work in order to feed their families. The distance from Minya to Sirte is around 1,200 miles, which takes at least an entire day to cover. According to Shenouda Shokry—an Egyptian farmer who went to Libya twice for work—Egyptian workers initially have to pay an average of eight thousand Egyptian pounds (around one thousand US dollars) to get the Libyan visa, including a round-trip flight ticket. Shokry’s brother Youssef was one of the twenty-one killed by IS.
The news shocked the relatives, but later evoked a different image to them. The image of martyrdom, of heroes.
"I am happy for my relatives. They had faith in God. They had faith in Jesus Christ. And that is what matters. They died for their faith. They died for Christianity," said Bishop Feloubes Fawzy, who lost his nephew and four of his cousins in the IS violence.
Around 2,500 Christian inhabitants live in the village, out of a total population of six thousand Egyptians. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced his intention to build a new church for their relatives in the village.
[All photographs by Jonathan Rashad.]