Egyptian Christmas Eve Shooter Threatens Witnesses in Court
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(AINA) -- The Christmas Eve Massacre trial held before the Emergency State Security Court in Qena on May 17 listened for the first time after eight court sessions to the testimony of witnesses.

The Massacre took place on 6 January 2010, the Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve, when Muslims carried out a drive-by shooting of the congregation as it left midnight mass, killing 6 Copts and a Muslim, and the injuring 9 Copts. The shooting took place in three locations, one near the church, one 850 meters away and the other near the Monastery of Abu Daba, 1500 meters from the church. Two days later three Muslims, Hamman el-Kamouni, Qurashi Abou Haggag and Hendawi elSayed were arrested and charged with committing the massacre (AINA 1-7-2010).

At the previous court session on May 16, defense lawyers, in a bid to further delay the trial, had requested to see all 19 witnesses, including Anba Kirollos, Bishop of the Nag Hammadi Dioceses, as well as the examinations of the intestines of two of the murdered Copts and the Muslim policeman who was coincidentally in their company, for evidence of narcotic and alcohol consumption. They also requested a medical examination of the two Muslim witnesses for narcotic or alcohol consummation. The court denied all their requests.

The court heard on May 17 the testimony of both Muslim witnesses, taxi driver Osama Abdel-Latif and his colleague Mohamed Ibrahim, in whose taxi three people were murdered by the Muslim killers near Abu Daba Monastery. Both witnesses corroborated police reports and confirmed that el-Kamouni was the killer, using one weapon only.

"As soon as the first witness, taxi driver Osama Abdel-Latif, identified himself to the court and confirmed that el-Kamouni was the killer, El-Kamouni went berserk in his cage," Dr. Shafik Awad, attorney of the Nag Hammadi victims told renown Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub in an aired interview. "El-Kamouni cursed the witness and threatened him by saying 'let's see whether later the government can help you, and how much money did you receive from the government for this testimony?'" He stopped yelling only after the judge warned that he would be removed from court.

Both witnesses confirmed that el-Kamouni stopped the taxi and asked driver Osama whether he had any Christians passengers. Osama refused to answer, but el-Kamouni recognized the Copt Rafik Refaat, who runs a grocery shop in town. According to Osama's testimony, el-Kamouni immediately shot him dead, and when he argued with him about the fairness of his acts, el-Kamouni threatened to also kill him if he did not keep quiet and shot several warning shots to the ground. El-Kamouni went on to shoot the other two passengers, 18-years-old Coptic student Mina Helmy and the Muslim policeman, Ayman Hashem, who was mistaken for a Copt.

Both witnesses confirmed seeing el-Kamouni and Qurashi Abou Haggag but were not sure about the third man Hendawi elSayed.

The Court heard on May 18 the third witness, Colonel Ahmad Hegazy, chief investigator at Nag Hammadi directorate, who carried out the investigation with of the three accused murderers. Hegazy confirmed that all three confessed to him during interviews that they had committed the crime. In his opinion the second and third of the men, Qurashi Abou Haggag and Hendawi elSayed, could have prevented the main perpetrator el-Kamouni from committing the crime, by refraining from accompanying him in all three crime scenes, but they were fully committed to collaborating with him.

"They started together at 11:30 PM and killed two Copts," Awad told activist Wagih Yacoub, "then went on to the second location and killed two other Copts, and finally to Abu Daba Monastery to kill the two Copts and the Muslim policeman."

Hegazy dismissed the link between the Christmas Eve Massacre and the alleged rape of the 12-years-old Muslim girl in Farshout by the Copt Guirgis Baroumi, as was falsely propagated by the Egyptian government and the media. He said that there is no family relationship or any incentive to make the killers commit the Nag Hammadi crime in retaliation for the Muslim girl. Hegazy was also the investigating officer of the Farshout case (AINA 4-10-2010).

"During Colonel Hegazy's testimony, el-Kamouni was extremely angry and kept on threatening and cursing him," Dr. Awad said.

Dr. Awad expressed his concern that the Emergency State Security Court in Qena has not been recording the names of the lawyers representing the victims who were present during the last three sessions, which is against article 271 of the criminal regulations, to protect the rights of victims to be represented. "We do not want to start another clash with this court and ask for change of court, at the same time we cannot neglect the rights of the victims to be represented," Awad said. "We want to make sure we get the appropriate conviction and compensation for the victims. We also refuse to be completely marginalized by the court," he added. Lawyers for the victims presented a request to the court to this effect.

Mahmoud Abdel-Salam, the presiding judge at the Emergency State Security Court in Qena , was also presiding over the case of Guirgis Baroumi in Farshout. The defense team of Baroumi clashed several times with the court in Farshout, as they were prevented from seeing their client, and asked for a change of court. Although their request was denied, judge Abdel-Salam resigned on May 15 from overseeing the Farshout case due to "the court's embarrassment caused by the defense team's request to change the court." Many observers believe the relationship between Coptic lawyers and judge Abdel-Salam has been strained since the clashes in Farshout.

Awad said they are in agreement with the Prosecution, which is demanding the death penalty. In his opinion, the testimonies of the two Muslim witnesses, Osama Abdel-Latif and Mohamed Ibrahim, in addition to the "strong and very impressive testimony of Colonel Hegazy" should be enough for the death penalty for the perpetrators.

Cases adjudicated before State Security courts have no possibility of appeal and the rulings come in a form of a "decision" which is sent to the President of the Republic to be ratified, thereby becoming final.

The trial has been adjourned to June 19 to hear the testimony of the Chief of Forensics regarding the weapons used in the killings.

According to many who were present in the court, El-Kamouni's father vowed out loud during the court sessions that should his son be convicted, "this would mean the end of all Christians in Nag Hammadi."

By Mary Abdelmassih

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