Kidnapped and Never Returned: They Get Paid For Every Girl They Bring In
Kidnapping strategies can be subtle. “A Muslim boy tells a Christian girl he loves her and wants to convert to Christianity for her. They start a romantic relationship until one day they decide to ‘escape’ together. What the girls don’t know is that they are actually being kidnapped. Most of the time they will not marry their kidnapper but someone else.”
The reason Gahiji, a former Egyptian trafficker, knows these details is because he was once part of such a network that actively targeted Coptic girls to bring them into Islam.
“I remember a Coptic girl from a rich well-known family in Minya,” He recalls, “She was kidnapped by five Muslim men. They held her in a home, stripped her and filmed her naked. In the video, one of them also undressed. They threatened to make the video public if the girl wouldn’t marry him.”
Other community members confirm Gahiji’s claims. One family solemnly recounts the story of their 16-year-old daughter, Maat, who was recently kidnapped through this ‘love’ tactic. Her family priest tells the story:
“On Wednesday evening, June 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm, Maat disappeared. Her mother searched everywhere but couldn’t find her. Some people told us that she had been kidnapped by a young man named Tor. He had taken her to a farm where he works.”
The family and their priest were eventually able to connect with an Egyptian researcher who wanted to remain anonymous. He confirmed the rumors over the phone, “Maat was seduced by a recruit of a Salafi organization. She was involved in a love affair; he was then able to convince her to run away with him.”
Police Who Don’t Police
Maat wasn’t 18 yet, so even if she had agreed to go with Tor, the law clearly considers this incident a case of kidnapping a minor. Still, Maat’s family has struggled to get law enforcement to take the case seriously.
“I filed a report in two police stations, and I gave the names of the kidnappers and the place where they hid my daughter,” Maat’s father reports, “But the police haven’t arrested them. They didn’t even get in touch with Tor’s brother, who lives in the village and is in touch with Tor.”
Unfortunately, Maat’s story is only the beginning.
In Cairo, just weeks before Maat was taken, 15-year old Nabirye was pushed into a car with force by two men as she walked. Her 38-year-old kidnapper later confessed he had forged her papers and married her.
Gahiji, who knows the groups from the inside, is not surprised by these stories, “The kidnappers receive large amounts of money. Policemen sometimes help them and then they get a share of that amount. And the value of the reward increases whenever the girl has a position. For example, when she is the daughter of a priest or comes from a well-known family.”
Was the Victim Muslim or Christian?
Whether or not the police get involved, Gahiji says, sometimes comes down to whether their families are Christian or Muslim. For example, a Muslim girl who was kidnapped for ransom in Balansora around the same time as Nabirye was tracked down by the police and released in 24 hours.
This, according to Gahiji, is because the police are biased against Christian families, “The police don’t report it as a kidnap but say the girl ‘went missing.’ This way they cover up the crimes of those they see as their ‘Muslim brothers’.”
Astonishingly, Gahiji continues, “Police can help [kidnappers] in different ways, and when they do, they might also receive a part of the financial reward the kidnappers are paid by the Islamization organizations. In some cases, police provide the kidnappers with drugs they seize. The drugs are then used to weaken the resistance of the girls they put under pressure. I even know of cases in which police offers helped to beat up the girls to make them recite the Islamic creed.”
Many girls, too are handed over to extremists. “The Salafist group I knew rented apartments in different areas of Egypt to hide kidnapped Coptic girls. There they put them under pressure and threaten them to convert to Islam. And once they reach the legal age, an Islamic official comes in to legally change their religion to Islam,” Gahiji explains.
If all goes according to plan, the girls are also forced into marriage with a strict Muslim. However, their husbands don’t love them, they marry purely to convert more women to Islam. “She will be hit and humiliated. And if she tries to escape, or convert back to her original religion, she will be killed.”
“The most shocking thing is that when some girls are forced to marry, they find out that they are a second wife and are treated like animals. Some are sent to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to work as domestic servants and they are exploited sexually and are seriously physically abused.”
An anonymous researcher confirms Gahiji’s stories as well. “This is something that happens in Egypt almost on a daily basis. But in 80% of cases, families prefer not to speak publicly to avoid shame which will make their other daughters less eligible to find a good marriage partner.”
Maat Is Being Held Against Her Will
As for Maat, her kidnappers recently released videos of the girl and posted them online. In the videos, Maat says she has converted. In one, she holds a Quran. In the other, she appears veiled and she seemingly repeats what is dictated to her through an earpiece.
Her mother, Hafsah, claims it is obvious her daughter was being forced to appear on video. “I see she is under pressure. My daughter is a minor and doesn’t know anything; why aren’t the authorities doing anything to help her?”
Unfortunately, the family’s priest confirms the prosecution dropped Maat’s case in August. “We’ve done everything we could to get our girl back. We even sent a complaint to President Sisi, the interior minister and many other important people. Her family lives in bitterness and pain, and we don’t know what to do anymore. We just don’t know.”
The Recovery Process is Slow and Often Unsuccessful
Recovering these girls is a long and difficult effort.
Another Coptic priest who resides in Upper Egypt has spent the last ten years trying to get such kidnap victims back to their families. His daughter, 14 at the time, was almost kidnapped in 2011 during the ‘first’ revolution, when men broke into his house. “Because I advocate for these girls, I received threats. If I wouldn’t stop, they would take my daughter too. But I fear no one, only God. Their threats weren’t going to stop me.”
This priest acted quickly, grabbed his gun and shot in the air twice. “The kidnappers got scared and ran away.”
In his family’s area alone, he claims, about 15 girls go missing each year. But in the decade he’s has been advocating for these girls, he’s only managed to get eight of them back. “Every girl who doesn’t return feels like a daughter I am losing.”
He describes what it is like to plead with the police. “If we go to them with our cases, most of the time they don’t do anything…I try to get the girls back before their 18th birthday, the day they can legally change their religion without parental consent. The kidnappers hide the girl until then. So I go to the police time and time again to file a report and sometimes go to the family of the kidnappers to negotiate the girl’s release. I managed to release the eight girls this way, sometimes with help of the police, other times by paying a ransom.”
Kidnapping Is a Conversion Tactic
Gahiji confirms that the aim of the kidnapping network is to strengthen Islam and weaken Christianity. “The networks have tens of thousands of members and are financed by wealthy Muslims, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Sometimes they also loot or steal from Christian companies to finance their plans.”
The kidnappers, the priest explains, tend to target the most vulnerable: “They choose who already experience problems in their families. For instance, those who have an absent father. They are an easy target.” He hopes girls in his community find love both at home and in their church, which makes them less vulnerable.
Open Doors readers can pray for priests like the ones featured in this article who often try to intervene in the criminal networks that victimize their communities. These faith leaders often put their own lives and families at risk to offer support and hope to the families of missing girls. Pray that God gives them strength to continue their important work even in the face of disappointment. And pray that local officials will begin to take these kidnappings more seriously and choose to prosecute those who steal Christian girls as well as Muslim ones.