Hanna Asaad, a network engineer in Fairfax, Va., grew up in the village of Aloor in southern Egypt. He was able to immigrate to the United States several years ago, but his best friend and cousin, Samuel Alham, sought work as a laborer in nearby Libya, like many other Coptic Christians in the impoverished region.
Shortly after Christmas, Alham and 20 of his fellow Coptic laborers were kidnapped by Islamic State militants in Libya. In mid-February, they were marched to a Mediterranean beach in handcuffs and orange prison jumpsuits. Then they were beheaded with knives as a video camera recorded the gruesome scene.
On Tuesday, Asaad, 29, joined 20 protesters who donned orange jumpsuits and stood outside the White House, then knelt with their hands behind their backs. Behind them, other demonstrators held up photographs of the real victims and the blood-red waves where their headless corpses were thrown.
“I kept calling my cousin and telling him he had to leave Libya, but there was no safe way out,” Asaad said. “The militants came looking for Christians and then took them away. They murdered my cousin, my nephew and my classmates. Someday soon they will start murdering people in this country.”
About 50 demonstrators, who marched slowly from the White House to Capitol Hill under police escort, demanded that U.S officials take more aggressive action against the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
“Obama, Obama, did you see? Christian blood in the sea,” they chanted.
For Copts in the Washington area and across the United States — mostly a population of educated, professional émigrés — the seaside slaughter was an especially horrific incident in a history of increasing persecution that the Christian minority group has faced in its native Egypt. Recent attacks included the bombing of a church on New Year’s Day, 2011, in the city of Alexandria, which left 21 worshippers dead and 79 injured.