“A Muslim boy from an extremist group tells a Christian girl he loves her and wants to convert to Christianity for her. 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.”
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare; that their child will be groomed and lured away by someone who plans to take advantage of them. In Egypt, this cruel trick is being used by Islamic extremists to deliberately target Christian girls, to bring shame on their families and tear their communities apart.
The quote above comes from Father Simon*, a church leader who has seen too many cases like this in his small region of Egypt. “At least 15 girls a year are kidnapped in our region alone,” he says. “Every girl who is kidnapped and doesn’t return feels like a daughter I am losing.”
There is huge shame associated with these kidnappings, which makes it hard to know exactly how many take place. A Coptic human rights activist, who would prefer to remain anonymous, says, “In 80 per cent of the cases their families prefer not to speak about it publicly. This is to avoid the shame which will make their other daughters less eligible to find a good marriage partner.”
While the rising violence against Christians in Egypt often hits the headlines, with church bombings by extremist groups becoming a horrifyingly regular occurrence, the story of these missing girls is often hidden. But these are the stories that we, the global family of God, need to know about, so that we can stand with our Egyptian brothers and sisters in prayer and action. For the families whose daughters have been taken, there are no quick fixes – which is why we must support them for as long as they need us.
INTERVIEW WITH A KIDNAPPER
George* was once involved in kidnapping these girls as part of an Islamic extremist group; he has since left the group, and is no longer a Muslim. He confirms that Christian girls are being targeted as a means of converting them to Islam by force. He says, “The Salafist networks began in the era of President Sadat in the seventies and reached the highest levels in the era of President Sisi at our present time.”
While many of the kidnappers are motivated by financial gain, as they are paid for each girl they bring in, the aim of these extremist networks is to weaken Christianity. “The networks have a big number of members and are financed by wealthy Muslims, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Sometimes they also loot or steal from Christian companies to finance their plans.”
He remembers the kidnappers using the tactics Father Simon describes. “A group of kidnappers meets and discusses the potential victims. They keep a close eye on the houses of the Christians and monitor everything that is going on. Then they weave a spider web around them.”
But the girls are not always ‘seduced’ away from their families – sometimes much more violent methods are employed, and girls are simply grabbed from the street, stuffed into cars and driven away.
George says, “I remember one case of a Coptic girl from a wealthy, well-known family. She was kidnapped by five Muslim extremist guys. They held her in a home and stripped her of her clothes and filmed her naked. One of the men also undressed in the video. They threatened that they would make the video public if the girl wouldn’t marry him.”
Miriam*, a 16-year-old Egyptian Christian, was a victim of the ‘seduction’ method of kidnapping last year. Her church leader says, “Her mother searched for her everywhere but couldn’t find her. Some people told us that she had been kidnapped by a young man named John*. He had kidnapped her and took her to a farm he works on.”
We spoke to a researcher who has been looking into the kidnapping of girls in Egypt. He said, “Miriam was seduced by a recruit of a Salafi organisation. He was then able to convince her to run away with him. Miriam isn’t 18 yet – even if she had agreed to go with John, if we look at our law, this is clearly a case of kidnapping a minor.”
Initially, Miriam’s family received little help from the police. Miriam’s father said, “I filed a report in two police stations, and I gave the police 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 the brother of the kidnapper, who lives in the village and is in touch with his brother, to investigate.” Meanwhile, a Muslim girl who was kidnapped for ransom in the same village around the same time was followed up with by the police and released in 24 hours.
George confirms that the police sometimes collude with kidnappers. He says, “Kidnappers of Christian girls rarely get arrested or brought to prosecution. For instance, when a kidnapping is reported, the police don’t report it as a kidnapping but say the girl ‘went missing’. This way they cover up the crimes of those they see as their ‘Muslim brothers’.”
Astonishingly, George has even experienced the police playing an active role in helping the kidnappers. “The policemen help in different ways, and when they do, they might also receive a part of the financial reward the kidnappers are paid by the Islamic extremist organisations. In some cases, the policemen provide the kidnappers with the drugs they seized during their work fighting crime. The drugs are then used by the kidnappers to weaken the resistance of the girls they are putting under pressure. I even know of cases in which police officers helped to beat up the girls to make them recite the Islamic creed.”
Of course, not every policeman in Egypt is corrupt. In the case of Miriam, she was eventually found and rescued after three months, with help from the police in the local area where she was being held. Miriam’s church leader says, “We found out that Miriam was held in a certain place. We went to the local police station and they really did their best to reach her and managed to arrest the kidnapper and his brother, and release Miriam. Miriam is very happy about her return to her family. We thank God for answering our prayers.”
Miriam’s family didn’t want to share the details of what happened to her when she was in captivity – there is huge shame associated with these kidnappings. But it is clear that she was badly treated by her kidnappers. She was lucky to escape – most of the kidnapped girls are never heard from again. Please pray for Miriam and her family as they recover from their ordeal.
PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE
The kidnappers have been known to target prominent Christian girls. George confirms, “The kidnappers receive large amounts of money. 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.”
But they often go after girls who are already vulnerable. Church leader Simon tells us, “They choose the girls who are already experiencing problems in their families. For instance, those who have an absent father. They are an easy target.” This is where he believes the church can work to prevent these girls from being taken. “Girls should be able to find love at home and in the church. This makes them less vulnerable.”
Melissa*, a church worker who is supported by an Open Doors partner, has been working with Christian girls for several years now. She says, “In my work I see kidnappings happening about once a month. But I believe there are many more cases that go unreported because of shame.
“We talk about kidnappings openly. We have to. Social awareness about this issue is very important. I teach the girls about boundaries in relationships. And I teach them about their value in Christ and help them to be in relationship with Him. If they have better self-esteem they will be less vulnerable.”
Show a Christian girl in Egypt what true friendship looks like
You can help Open Doors partners to show Christian girls what true friendship looks like, and support their families and communities today. For the families whose daughters have been taken, there are no quick fixes – which is why we must continue to support them and their communities in prayer and action.
Father Simon says, “I believe my God is a God of miracles. We pray for these girls in church while our tears are flowing. I pray not only for the kidnapped girls but also for their kidnappers. I pray that God touches their hearts.” Please join him in praying:
- For protection and wisdom for Christians girls in Egypt
- For comfort for girls who have been kidnapped, and that they would know God’s love and presence with them, whatever they are facing today
- For God to work through Open Doors partners and local churches to protect Christian girls, to teach them to be wise, and help them to know that they are loved and valued
- For God to change the hearts of those who are seeking to harm Christians in Egypt.
Open Doors has been working through local partners and churches in Egypt since 1990, providing literacy training and education projects, youth and family ministry, advocacy support, medical outreach, ministry to widows and vocational training for women. None of this would be possible without your prayers or support.
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