The killing of an imam under the purview of the Endowments Ministry by armed groups in Arish marks a new turn in the battle for control of the area, an official from the ministry told Mada Masr.
Reda Abdel Bari, a 40-year-old imam at Hassan Roushdy mosque in Arish, was killed last Tuesday after armed groups in North Sinai held him for a week, the ministry official, who asked to remain anonymous, reported.
The targeting of imams working with the Endowments Ministry is in retaliation for the ministry unifying sermons and taking charge of mosques in Arish that were previously under the control of Islamist groups, according to the official.
Armed men also reportedly kidnapped an imam from Arish’s Sabil village for a week and then released him, and another imam from Abu Eita village in Arish nine months ago, who hasn’t reappeared since.
The Khawater Sinawy (Thoughts of a Sinai Resident) Facebook page published pictures showing large numbers of mourners at Abdel Bari’s funeral, as well as news of the kidnapping of Endowments Ministry official Abdel Moneim Barhoum last Thursday, after he was previously kidnapped and released a few months ago.
Abdel Bari moved from the Nile Delta city of Mansoura to Arish seven years ago, and was a popular imam, according to several local residents. One resident, who knew Abdel Bari personally, told Mada Masr he believes the imam was targeted due to his popularity and ability to influence people, and that he was killed and not released like the others because he refused to adhere to his kidnappers’ wishes.
Abdel Bari, like most other imams, prayed for Egypt’s security forces to succeed in their battle against armed militants at the end of his sermons, but was not known for having any particular political affiliations. He gave to charity and was involved in resolving community disagreements, according to the resident.
Armed groups have increasingly carried out attacks in North Sinai against military and police forces and those they perceive to be affiliated with them since 2014, when the Islamic State-affiliated Province of Sinai became more visible in the area.
The militant group recently began targeting Coptic Christians, forcing hundreds to flee Arish in February.
The military continues its operations against militant groups in North Sinai. Last Tuesday, the official military spokesman announced the killing of 12 “Takfiris,” in an air strike in North Sinai. Takfirism advocates for armed struggle against those considered to be non-practicing Muslims or infidels.
Khawater Sinawy cited several incidents of civilian deaths in the last week in Sinai due to explosives falling on their homes. The page reported that a three-year-old child was killed and other family members injured after their home was hit by explosives south of Rafah last Tuesday, as well as the death of a woman in a similar attack on her home the previous day.