Hundreds of Christians Flee Egypt's North Sinai Amid ISIS Killing Spree

Hundreds of Christians in Egypt's North Sinai province fled the area Friday after the Islamic State terror group killed seven Christians in just three weeks.

(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Aboulenein)Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt, February 24, 2017.
(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Aboulenein)Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt, February 24, 2017.
(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Aboulenein)Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt, February 24, 2017.
(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Aboulenein)Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt, February 24, 2017.
(Photo: Reuters/David McNew)Coptic Christians in Los Angeles, California, protest against deadly clashes in Cairo, Egypt, between Christian protesters and military police in this October 16, 2011 photo.
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Reuters says one of its reporters saw at least 25 families from the Evangelical Church in Sinai in the city of Ismailia on the Suez Canal.

Church officials were quoted as saying that 100 of the roughly 160 families in North Sinai were fleeing. More than 200 students studying in el-Arish, the province's capital, have also left.

"I am not going to wait for death," Rami Mina, a Christian who fled, was quoted as saying. "I shut down my restaurant and got out of there. These people are ruthless."

On Thursday, Kamel Youssef, a plumber, was shot to death in front of his wife and children in their home in el-Arish, according to ABC News. It was the seventh killing since Jan. 30.

Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, recently released a video threatening Christians in the country. IS is also believed to be behind the bombing of a chapel adjoining Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope, in December. At least 28 people were killed. Egypt's IS affiliate is based in the Sinai Peninsula.

"Oh crusaders in Egypt, this attack that struck you in your temple is just the first with many more to come, God willing," said a masked man in the video. The group claimed the same man blew himself up in the chapel.

A priest, who was not named and who also left el-Arish, was quoted as saying that the flight from the area in recent days is unprecedented in size. "You feel like this is all meant to force us to leave our homes. We became like refugees."

"The scene here is really painful," Mina Thabet, a researcher with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, was quoted as saying. "This was a test to the government. It failed and its management of the crisis was terrible."

Earlier this week, a Coptic Christian man was shot in the head while his son was burned alive in el-Arish. The father, 65-year-old Saad Hana, and his son, 45-year-old Medhat, were found by Egyptian security officials Wednesday, according to Al-Ahram.

In another attack on Jan. 30, Coptic Christian trader Wael Youssed Meland was shot and killed by masked men in his grocery shop in el-Arish, while on Feb. 12, a Coptic veterinarian named Bahgat William Zkhar was shot in his car just south of the city.

Two other Coptic Christians, Adel Shawky and Gamal Tawfiq Gares, were also shot and killed by masked assailants this month.

Copts make up only 10 percent of the nation's 92 million population, and have often been victims of militants who have vandalized churches, Christian bookshops, orphanages and other buildings.