A Muslim police officer who died in the line of duty during a terrorist attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt is being hailed as a hero.
At least 44 people died, and more than 100 were injured, during bombings that targeted a Coptic cathedral and another Coptic church on an important holy day on the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Brigadier General Nagwa El-Haggar was one of at least seven Egyptian officers killed on that day, three of whom were Muslim women. She was reportedly posted at the entrance to St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria on Sunday, where the Coptic Pope Tawadros was leading a Palm Sunday mass. The suicide bomber attempted to enter the cathedral through a main gate, but was stopped by security officers, according to the state-owned news organization Ahram Online. The attacker then detonated the bomb outside the cathedral.
The Saudi Arabian news site Arab News reports that El-Haggar was conducting inspections on people entering the cathedral grounds when she saw her male colleagues struggling with the suspect. She was killed while rushing to help her colleagues.
Seventeen people died in the blast at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, and 48 others were injured, according to Reuters.
Hours earlier, another suicide bomber had managed to slip past security at St. George’s Church in Tanta. The attacker detonated a bomb at the altar, killing at least 27 people and injuring 78 others.
In addition to El-Haggar, two other female officers were killed in the attacks: Sergeants Asmaa Hussein and Omneya Roshdy, according to Daily News Egypt. These three women may be the first female officers in Egypt’s police force to be killed in the line of duty.
In an interview with Dream TV host Wael Ibrashy, El-Haggar’s nephew, Islam Fathi, said that his aunt was “known for her kindness.”
“We are proud of General Nagwa,” Fathi said.
Even though his aunt was Muslim, Fathi said she would sometimes say her prayers at the church.
“I say to our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters. Do not be sad,” he said. “Muslims and Christians are one. It’s not about Muslim attacking Christians. No. My aunt was a Muslim. She was a believer ... She was protecting Christians who were also praying in the Church.”
In recent months, the Islamic State has ramped up attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt. Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Sunday’s attack have left some members of the community wondering whether Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has done enough to protect them.
Al-Sisi has declared a three-month state of emergency for the country, and ordered troops to help police secure public spaces.