(AINA) -- An Egyptian court in the southern city of Assuit acquitted this week four Muslims accused of killing 61-year-old Farouk Attallah on October 19, 2009. In broad daylight and in full view of witnesses, the killers fired 31 bullets to his head before beheading him, in the busy village market place of Attaleen, near Dairout, 313 kilometers south of Cairo. The dead body was then dragged in the street, accompanied by shouts of victory. Free Copts website published a video of the disfigured body (warning, violent graphic content: video).
The judge presiding over the court on February 22, said that he was not satisfied that the testimony of the witnesses established that the imprisoned men were the killers. After the acquittal of Mohamad, Ashraf, Osama and Ahmad Hassouna, there was jubilation in the court room, with shouts of 'Allah is Great' and congratulations from all Muslims, including members of the state security forces who were present.
Christians were enraged over the acquittal, since similar cases would result in life imprisonment or execution for a Copt if the victim was a Muslim.
The verdict came as another wake-up call to many Copts, according to Peter Sarwat, the plaintiff's attorney. "It sends a clear message that Coptic blood is extremely cheap." he told Mariam Ragy of Katiba Tibia Coptic site. "This acquittal will make permanent the present culture of impunity enjoyed by Muslim aggressors against Copts.".
Sarwat said the ruling was inadequate, as it acquitted the accused but did not say who the perpetrators are. "If these men did not kill, so who killed? The ruling should have referred the case to the general prosecution to present the perpetrators."
The Court based its ruling on quasi non existent proof, as well as the absence of "positive evidence" testimony versus the presence of "negative evidence" testimony. "The judge refused to take into consideration the testimonies of the dead man's daughter who said she only saw one killer and not four, as well as the testimony of the Muslim man who was wounded in the shootings," said Sarwat. According to media reports, most people who witnessed the shootings in the market place refused to come forward for fear of vengeance from the assailants' family. There were false witnesses who confirmed that the killers were present at work.
"It is not enough to get a conviction based only on police reports which are full of legal loopholes and weak prosecution investigations," said Sarwat. Legal observers have always claimed that the police purposely deliver to prosecution reports full of inadequacies and loopholes, thereby getting from the courts acquittals for Muslims.
What prompted the killing of Farouk Attallah was an alleged illicit sexual relationship between his son Romany and a local Muslim girl, Hagger Hassouna. A rumor that intimate photos of Hagger together with her lover Romany were circulating on cell phones in Dairout lead four members of the Hassona family to kill Romany's father, after failing to locate his son, who had fled.
Besides the killing of Farouk Attallah, the arrest of the Hassouna perpetrators sparked on October 24, 2009, Muslim riots and collective punishment against all Copts in Dairout. Christian-owned shops, pharmacies, and homes were looted and burned (AINA 10-27-2009).
Although several hundreds Muslims participated in those riots, the police only detained 19, and these were acquitted on December 13, 2009 because of the lack of eyewitnesses and conflicting statements between the accused and the victims.
The majority of Copts believe the reason for the acquittal of Muslims is that although Egypt claims to be a secular state, in reality it applies the Sharia law which dictates .that a Muslim who kills a non-Muslim must not be killed, because it is not reasonable to equate a Muslim with a "polytheist" (a Christian).
Commenting on the acquittal, Dr. Naguib Gobraeel, President of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, said: "What is the solution? The same happened with regards to Al-Kosheh Massacre [21 Copts were slaughtered in 2000 and not one Muslim was indicted], the attack on the Copts in Alexandria were blamed on a mentally unstable person; even the assailant who beheaded Abdo Goerge Younan in Menoufiah is now in a mental hospital [AINA 9-21-2009]. Heavenly Justice is our last resourt." He stated that he will appeal this week's verdict.
The victim's family was greatly shocked and saddened by the acquittal. "In spite of the blood of their slain family head filling the street, the Muslim killers got away literally with murder," Sarwat said "It just shows how cheap Coptic blood can be."
Sarwat asserted that he will appeal the ruling. "We cannot remain silent over this verdict as it has very serious implications for all Copts in Egypt." He added: "It is not safe for Copts now, as any Muslims who wants to get rid of a Copt, would kill him, knowing well that in the end he will be acquitted."
By Mary Abdelmassih