Omar, an Egyptian, admits he was in a network actively targeting Coptic girls for years before he left Islam; he says that the kidnapping of such girls 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 says.
Strategies can be subtle. “A Muslim boy tells a Christian girl he loves her and wants to convert to Christianity for her,” Omar 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.”
“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.”
Kidnapping of a minor
This summer there were two ‘kidnap’ incidents within two days.
Sixteen-year-old Marilyn was kidnapped through this ‘love’ tactic, as her family priest, Father Boutros Khalaf, explains, when we meet in their village, Balansora, Minya province, as her desperate parents cry nearby. “On Wednesday evening [28 June, 2017] at 5pm, Marilyn disappeared. 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,” says Fr Khalaf.
An Egyptian researcher, who wants to remain anonymous, confirmed to World Watch Monitor over the phone: “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 Adly Beshai Sawiris was pushed into a car with force by two men as she walked along a street in Cairo. Her 38-year-old kidnapper later confessed he had forged her papers to show her as an over-18 and married her.
He was charged with kidnapping a minor, forgery, and inciting sectarian strife.
Pressure to convert
Omar, who knows the groups from the inside, 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 Islamisation organisations. 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 offered helped to beat up the girls to make them recite the Islamic creed.
“And 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.”
Many girls are handed over to extremists, Omar explains. “The Salafist group I knew rented apartments in different areas of Egypt to hide kidnapped Coptic girls,” he 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, shares: “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.”
“If all goes to plan, the girls are also forced into marriage with a strict Muslim. 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.”
Meanwhile, a Muslim girl kidnapped for ransom in Balansora around the same time was followed by the police and released in 24 hours.
“Kidnappers of Christian girls rarely get arrested or brought to the prosecution,” says Omar. “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’.”