Hundreds of Christians in Egypt have fled northern Sinai, following a spate of targeted attacks on the embattled minority by Islamic State militants.
Seven Christians have been killed in the Province’s capital, Arish, in under a month. An affiliate group of Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the killings, five of which were shootings. One man was beheaded and another set on fire.
In a video released by the Islamic State affiliate group on 20 February, the group says Christians are its ‘favourite prey’ and vows to escalate its campaign against them.
The 20-minute video shows the suicide bomber who blew himself up in a packed church, adjacent to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, on December 11, killing 29 people.
The narrator says Christians are no longer ‘dhimmis,’ a reference to non-Muslims in Islam who are granted a degree of state protection. Instead, the group describes the Christians as infidels who are empowering the West against Muslim nations.
"God gave orders to kill every infidel," says a militant carrying an AK-47 assault rifle in the video.
Arish residents told Reuters that militants have been circulating death lists online and on the streets, warning Christians to leave or die.
Hundreds of Christian families and students have fled to Ismailia, north Sinai's neighbouring province, over the past two weeks.
Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ordered the Government to take all necessary measures to help resettle Christians during a meeting held on 25 February. Government officials met to discuss 'the importance of resisting all attempts to sabotage stability and security in Egypt', detailed a statement released on the same day.
Human rights activists say the displacement is a clear sign the Egyptian Government has failed to provide a minimum of security for the minority group in the volatile region, where they have faced public threats before, reports Crux News.
The Government only agreed to put up the fleeing Christians in Government housing in Ismailia after pressure on social media, say activists.
Orthodox Copts, who comprise about 10 percent of Egypt's 90 million people, are the Middle East's largest Christian community. They have long complained of persecution.
The Coptic Orthodox Church denounced "the recurring terrorist incidents in North Sinai targeting Christian citizens" in a statement on 25 February.
Egypt is battling an insurgency that gained pace in 2013 after its military, led by Sisi, overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed.
North Sinai's deputy police chief, Major General Mostafa al-Razaz, said security forces were capable of handling the crisis and that they had added more patrols and checkpoints, reports Reuters.
But Sinai's Christians say security forces on the ground are unable to protect them and are overwhelmed by the militants.
PICTURE: People hold candles during a vigil for victims of a Sunday bombing at the chapel adjacent to St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo on 14 December, 2016