Egyptians from across the religious spectrum have spoken out strongly against the recent killing of a Coptic priest in Sinai, saying the attack targets all Egyptians and strikes at the heart of the prevailing spirit of national unity.
On June 30th, the Rev. Raphael Moussa was shot dead by unknown assailants in the North Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish, according to Boulos Halim, a spokesman for the Coptic Church in Egypt.
The 46-year-old priest was killed after leaving a church where he had celebrated mass, Halim said, and was shot in the head upon exiting his car.
An "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) affiliate claimed responsibility for the murder in a statement posted on social media, in which it described the priest as "an infidel and antagonist to Islam".
Attack on priest 'violates Islam'
Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Shawqi Allam condemned the Sinai assassination, noting that with attacks like this extremist groups seek to weaken the country.
In a statement, he warned of the "attempts by terrorists to foment sectarian strife between Egypt's two wings, Muslims and Christians, who have been living in amity and harmony for hundreds of years".
"What the extremist and terrorist groups did violates all the teachings and decrees urged by sharia and the exhortations of the Prophet (MPBUH), to be charitable towards all people, particularly those who live with us in one country," he added.
The crime is a "cowardly act since it targeted a peaceful cleric", said Brig. Gen. Jawdat Ashraf of the Egyptian police, who is currently stationed in Sinai.
The attack took place when the priest stopped at an auto parts shop near the cathedral in Atef al-Sadat district of al-Arish, he said, where he came under fire from three persons as soon as he exited his car.
"The terrorists fled in a vehicle after committing the crime," Ashraf told Al-Shorfa, adding that security authorities have been conducting investigations in order to apprehend the perpetrators.
"The terrorists are resorting to this type of attack as a result of the tightening of the siege on them by security forces in Sinai, where these terrorist groups are suffering considerable losses on a daily basis," he said.
This type of attack is a sign of their inability to attack security posts, he said, "because it is difficult for them to move around openly".
Strong cohesion between Muslims and Christians
"The goal of this attack is clear: to create a rift between Muslims and Christians in Egypt in general and Sinai in particular to enable those who espouse terrorist ideas to act should the situation deteriorate between the two sides," Ashraf said.
"However, the reality on the ground clearly indicates the existence of strong cohesion between Muslims and Christians and the impossibility of imposing this scheme, especially as the people of North Sinai are totally behind the security forces in these circumstances," he added.
"The Rev. Raphael was ordained as a priest on March 3, 2012," said the Rev. Sameh Iskandar of Mar Mina church in Giza. "His actual name is Azmi Moussa Ayub Abdul Malik, he was 46 years old and was married with two children."
"He served as a priest of the Church of the Martyr of St. George in al-Arish and was known for his kind demeanor towards everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, and was loved by everyone, without exception," he told Al-Shorfa.
The sad irony is that "the martyred priest was ordained at the same time as Rev. Mina Abboud who also was shot to death by the terrorists in Sinai in July 2013", he added.
"Christians in Egypt in general and in the church in particular know full well that the people who carried out this attack are terrorists who use Islam as a cover, and that their aim is to give the impression that Muslims harbour hostility and hatred for Christians," Iskander said.
"Therefore all these attempts will not succeed in shaking the trust among Egyptians, and strife will have no place among them," he said, adding that "Egypt is for all Egyptians, and terrorism is destined to be eliminated".
'A terrorist crime in every sense'
"This calamity is everyone’s calamity without exception," said Sheikh Abdul Zahir Shehata, who lectures at Al-Azhar University's faculty of sharia.
"The killing of the Rev. Raphael Moussa at the hands of terrorists can only be categorised as a terrorist crime in every sense of the word, and the killers want nothing but terrorism, war and destruction for the people of Egypt," he said.
Such actions "have no relation whatsoever to Islam", he told Al-Shorfa.
"On the contrary, harming Christians in general and clerics in particular is absolutely forbidden, and Muslims are obligated to defend them, and not only refrain from causing harm to them," he said.
With his death, the Rev. Raphael paid "with blood the price for his known anti-terrorism and anti-religious fanaticism stances, no matter the source", he added.
With these types of crimes, terrorists seek to sow sedition among Egyptians, he said, but their aims will not be realised "because the people of Egypt have been through many trials and tribulations that confirmed the impossibility of creating a rift between them or dividing their ranks".