MINYA PROVINCE, Egypt, May 31, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Witness accounts surfacing after the bloody massacre of Coptic Christians in Egypt last week say that dozens of victims who died in the Islamic terrorist attack — some of them children — are martyrs for their faith.
Robbed of their personal belongings and ordered to renounce Christianity in favor of Islam, the captives refused one by one and were brutally shot, according to witnesses.
A young boy about six years old who survived shared how his mother shoved him under her bus seat and covered him with a bag, according to an Aleteia report of accounts from varying outlets.
“A dozen masked and armed men cut us off and asked us to renounce God,” said a woman from the village of Nazlet, which lost seven residents. “They were told no; there is no question about it, so the massacre began.”
The parish priest from the village praised the ultimate sacrifice made by the Coptic faithful.
“We must be proud of our beloved dead,” stated Father Pernaba Fawzi Hanine. “None of them denied God. They died as believers. They are our martyrs.”
“They asked them to deny their Christian faith, one by one,” another priest said, “but they all refused.”
The bus carrying the pilgrims to the remote desert monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor was traveling through the province of Minya about 120 miles south of Cairo last Friday when the terrorist attack happened, the Chicago Tribune reported. Twenty-nine Christians were killed in the attack and at least another 25 were hurt.
A report from The New York Times said the terrorists were dressed in military fatigues and flagged the bus down, claiming to be security officers and ordering the passengers to get out. They separated the men from the women and children, and commanded them to hand over their mobile phones before robbing them and demanding they recite the Islam profession of faith.
“They drove the men off the bus, took their ID cards and the gold they had on them, including their wedding rings,” said one man, whose parish lost some of its members.
After seizing the Christians’ money and other personal effects, witnesses said the terrorists told them to reject Christianity and pronounce the Islamic profession of faith; the shahada.
As each of the kneeling pilgrims refused, they were systematically shot in the neck, head, throat or chest.
Aiad Habib, 45, was on the bus with his 14-year-old son Mark and had spoken to his wife Hanaa Yusuf Mikhael on the phone before they headed toward the monastery, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
The next call the 40-year-old mother received was from her son as he desperately fled the scene of the attack in his father’s truck along with another youth.
Mark Habib had survived by his father shielding him with his body as the terrorists shot his dad to death for refusing to recite the Muslim profession of faith.
There were a total of three vehicles involved in the attack, two buses of pilgrims and one truck with laborers, all headed for the monastery, which is home to roughly 100 monks.
Not everyone was forced out of their vehicle, according to reports, explaining how some survived. The terrorists reportedly filmed the attack, leaving before it was complete because they saw more cars approaching on the road.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the massacre that same day. It was the fourth attack against Christians in Egypt claimed by the Islamic terror group since December. The Associated Press reported that more than 100 have been killed in the series of attacks and countless others hurt.
Bishop Anba Makarios of Minya also recounted how the attackers told the Christian men their lives would be spared if they converted to Islam.
“They chose death,” said Bishop Makarios, who has been a vocal critic of the government's handling of anti-Christian violence in Minya, and himself been the target of assassination.
“We take pride to die while holding on to our faith,” the bishop said in a Saturday television interview.
Christians make up more than 35 percent of the population in Minya, the greatest percentage of any area in Egypt.
The 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians slain on a Libyan beach in February 2015 by an ISIS faction were also originally from the Minya region. They were martyrs as well, many seen on video pronouncing Jesus’ name before they were beheaded.
Pope Francis described the Coptic Christians killed Friday as “courageous martyrs” after he prayed the Regina Caeli before a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.
“The victims, who included children, were faithful who were traveling to a shrine to pray, and they were killed after they refused to deny their Christian faith,” the pope said. “May the Lord receive into His peace these courageous witnesses, these martyrs, and convert the hearts of the terrorists.”
The pope had also led prayers for the Islamic terror victims on Saturday during a meeting with clergy and religious of the Archdiocese of Genoa, Vatican Radio reported.