The Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Alexandria has declared a priest who was stabbed to death on April 7 a martyr, while Egypt’s most influential Islamic institution condemned the attack.
Father Arsanious Wadid, 56, priest of the Virgin and St. Paul Church in the Karmouz neighborhood of the Meharam Bek District in Alexandria, was walking on the city promenade when the assailant stabbed him three times in the neck with a knife, according to local press reports.
The priest was distributing Ramadan gifts to passers-by on the walkway with a group of youths from the church, according to Alarabiya.net. He was stabbed by a man described only as a 60-year-old beggar as he was returning to a bus taking them back to the church site. The assailant fled but was apprehended by citizens and restrained until police arrived.
Wadeed was transported to Mostafa Kamel Military Hospital, where he died from his wounds upon arrival.
Authorities reportedly said that after questioning the assailant was found to be mentally unstable, a common assertion after attacks on Christians in Egypt. Officials said a motive for the attack had yet to be determined.
The criminal court placed the assailant under medical examination to check his assertions that mental instability made him “lose control of his actions,” according to Ahram Online.
“During his interrogation, the defendant confessed to intentionally killing the victim, but later changed his confession saying that he had arrived in Alexandria a few days prior in search of work and stayed overnight on public roads, claiming that the knife in his possession was just for self-defense,” the outlet reported. “He also claimed that he was not aware of what he was doing on the day of the incident until he was arrested. Furthermore, he said that he suffered from mental disorders about 10 years ago, after which he was admitted to a mental health hospital to receive treatment, and that he sometimes loses control of his actions.”
The Public Prosecution was also questioning the attacker’s family. Blood samples were taken to check if he was under the influence of narcotics during the attack.
The Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Alexandria declared Wadid a martyr. The Coptic Orthodox Church described the killing as “exceptional, and does not reflect the general situation in Egypt, and a failed attempt to destabilize security,” and praised rapid action by state agencies to block any “sedition.”
Archbishop Moussa Ibrahim, the official church spokesperson, told Sky News Arabia that the incident was an exception as “such incidents have completely stopped” and that it was a failed attempt to destabilize security. He claimed that the country was “stable and secure,” adding that the attack “will not stop our movement forward.”
Archbishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, also condemned the killing, tweeting, “In clerical attire in a public space with no one else attacked, it can be safely assumed that Father Arsanious Wadid was targeted as a priest. With a suspect in custody, we wait to see whether investigations rule this to be an ‘individual event’ or part of a known wider phenomenon.”
Al-Azhar, the world’s most influential Sunni Islam institution, condemned the attack in a statement on Facebook. Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb said such attacks “might instigate religious wars.”
“The Grand Imam affirms that homicide is a major sin that arouses God’s wrath and is punishable in the afterlife,” read Al-Azhar’s statement.
Christians make up more than 10 percent of Egypt’s population in Muslim-majority country, and attacks on Christians are common.
Wadid was ordained to the priesthood in 1995 by the late Pope Shenouda III, former head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Egypt was ranked 20th on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.