Bahgat was killed outside his clinic in February last year. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Bahgat was killed outside his clinic in February last year. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The string of attacks on Coptic Christians last year in the coastal Egyptian city of El-Arish, which caused a mass exodus, followed warnings “to leave or to die”, say relatives of the Coptic vet who was killed by suspected IS militants.

Bahgat William Zakhar, 40, was shot dead by a number of assailants as he left his clinic in a suburb of El Arish, capital of the North Sinai governorate, in February 2017.

“El-Arish was not a bad place,” Bahgat’s son Marqos, 17, told World Watch Monitor. “We lived in peace with our Muslim neighbours. My father was a veterinarian, and had good relations with his Muslim colleagues and friends.”

But his mother, Fawziya, said things changed with the arrival of Palestinian immigrants. “They had a very strict view on Islam,” she said.

The newcomers reportedly spread leaflets warning Christians to leave the city or die. Then the killings started.

Bahgat was one of the first victims.

Fawziya, with her son Marqos, after they fled El-Arish following the killing of her husband. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Fawziya, with her son Marqos (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

“It was a Sunday, and my husband woke up early to go to church. After that he went to work at the veterinarian clinic of one of his Muslim friends,” Fawziya explained.

Her son Marqos said that one of his father’s Muslim friends, who witnessed the attack, explained what happened.

“He told me that two young masked men entered the pharmacy and dragged my father outside. They told him to kneel in the street,” Marqos said.

“There they put two guns at my father’s head and told him to convert to Islam. But he shook his head. Then they shot him.”

“My husband was a loved man in El-Arish, a respected veterinarian,” Fawziya said. “I’ve heard that the terrorists were keeping an eye on him for some time already before they killed him.”

At the time it was reported that Bahgat was killed by militants belonging to the IS-affiliated group, ‘Sinai Province’.

The group is seeking to impose its hard-line interpretation of Islam on the local population around El-Arish and across North Sinai, and has created a morality police force, or Hisbah, to enforce strict rules against such behaviour as smoking, men shaving their beards or women exposing their faces.

In February last year Islamic State said it wanted to “wipe out” Egypt’s Copts.

A spate of killings of Copts then followed in North Sinai, leading to a mass exodus of Copt’s from El-Arish.

Bahgat’s family travelled to Ismailia, a city 200 kilometres from El-Arish, on the Suez Canal.

A large picture of Bahgat now hangs in the family’s new home. “I was proud of my father,” Marqos said. “For standing by his faith until the last moment.”