GUNMEN attacked worshippers leaving a Coptic Orthodox church on the southern outskirts of Cairo on Dec. 29, 2017. Subsequently claimed by ISIS, the assault—which took place some 10 minutes after the conclusion of Mass at St. Mina Church—killed nine people. One of the victims was a young mother of 32, Nermeen Sadiq. Her 13-year-old daughter Nesma Wael was at her side when she was shot. Nesma gave the following account of the ordeal:
“After Mass ended, I left the church with my cousin and my mother. My mom wore a cross around her neck, and all three of us were not wearing veils. In poorer neighborhoods, Muslim women often wear veils so they are distinguished from Christian women.
“As we turned into a side street, we saw someone on a motorcycle heading toward the church. The next thing we knew, the man crashed his bike after hitting a pothole. My mother ran up to him to help, reassuring him, as she said: “In the name of the Jesus Christ, are you okay?” He got up quickly and in a blink of an eye he opened fire on us with an automatic weapon he pulled out from under his vest.
“As soon as my cousin and I saw the weapon, we hid behind mom, who shouted at us to run away; the terrorist first shot her in the arm, while she was trying to protect us; as we ran away, she fell down and could not escape with us. The distance between us and the terrorist when he first took out his machine gun was no more than a few feet. My cousin and I ran into a small supermarket, where the sales girl hid us behind the refrigerator; from our hiding spot, we watched the attacker looking for us. When he couldn’t find us he turned to mom again and fired more shots at her.
“All this happened in few minutes. After the gunman left, we ran to my mother, who was laying face down in the street, drenched in blood. Many people had gathered, but they all refused to touch my mom, to turn her over, even though she was still alive. I kept screaming for someone to help me, but no one did. I called my father, but he did not pick up; I reached my uncle, who came right away.
“An ambulance pulled up, but the emergency workers refused to move mama into the ambulance until they got permission from the security officials who our out in the streets, hunting for the terrorist, as well as another shooter who had attacked people in front of the church.
“A gun battle erupted, and people fled. My cousin, my uncle and I stayed with my mother. She looked at me, saying: “Do not be afraid, I’m with you. Obey your father and take care of your sister.”
“My mother remained laying in the street for about an hour. After the shooting stopped, I went back to the church to fetch my younger sister Karen, who is eight. I took her home and told my father what had happened. I remembered my mom had told me to take care of my sister—at that moment my heart told me she would go to heaven, but my mind could not believe yet that she was dead. I told my father that my mother had not died yet.
“When I returned to the church to pick up my sister—who had remained in church because the service for children had not finished yet—I saw three people I knew laying in pools of blood in front of the church; I knew they had been killed.
“My dad later told me that by the time mom was taken into the ambulance she had died. In the end, the ambulance workers did not go to the hospital, but to the police station to file a police report; then she was taken to the morgue. I believe she died because she was left bleeding for an hour—I blame not only the terrorist but also the emergency workers and the police officer, because they neglected her.
“Today, I do not walk the streets alone anymore. My father always goes with me anywhere. Despite the pain inside my heart—I miss my mother desperately—I am happy because she is a martyr and I don’t feel afraid of the terrorists anymore. I was with her at the time of the attack and did not even get injured: it was God’s will to specifically choose her to go to the heaven.
“I do not want to leave my country, but I certainly want to find a better chance to live and study, especially since our financial situation isn’t good. My dad, Wael Nadi, who is 35, works as a driver, but he has no regular work; my mother provided the main source of income for our family; she was a nurse at Cairo Kidney Center for kidneys. I hope to become a doctor of nephrology; that was my mom’s dream for me.
“This is my message to all the persecuted people around the world: ‘Do not be afraid! Our lives are in God’s hands God and we have to adhere to our faith.’”
Nesma’s family, along with other poor families whose breadwinners were killed that day, is waiting for financial compensation from the government. Almost three weeks after the attack, nothing has happened yet.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international papal charity, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)