AL AOUR, Egypt — Death is everywhere in Al Aour. When a video surfaced late Sunday showing Islamic State fighters beheading 21 men in Libya, it seemed no family here was spared. Thirteen of the victims hailed from this dusty Egyptian town, roughly three hours south of Cairo.
The men were laborers, gone for months on end, who sent home hard-earned money to feed entire families. They left their impoverished home in Egypt to work in Libya for a better future, despite the dangers. What they found instead was a militant group hell-bent on humiliating and harming them because they were Christian. While most of the people killed by the Islamic State have been Muslim, the group’s recent propaganda video made a point to threaten Christianity as a religion. The fact that the 21 men were Egyptian made them even more sought-out targets: citizens of a country cracking down on Islamists both within its own borders and inside Libya.
On Jan. 3 at around 2:30 a.m. in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, masked gunmen began knocking on doors, according to survivors. They were looking for Christians marked with traditional tattoos on their hands that identified them as Copts, an ancient Christian sect in Egypt. Some men were pulled from their beds at gunpoint. Others hid and prayed, only to later see their captured friends and family members decapitated in a widely circulated and highly produced Islamic State video.
But in this tight-knit village, these men will not be remembered for their brutal murders. They are remembered as beloved husbands, sons, brothers, cousins and friends. In death, their lives are celebrated.
Here are the lives they lived, as told by family members.
Hani Abdel Messihah, 32
Magda Aziz, 29, holds the photo of her late husband, killed by ISIS, as she sits in her home in Al Aour, Egypt, on Tuesday.
Hani loved his four children — three girls and a boy, the youngest — more than anything in the world, his family says. He was gentle and kind, always making a joke whenever he could. His wife Magda Aziz, 29, will forever remember his laugh.
“I felt like he was an angel,” Magda said of her deeply devout husband. “There was a prayer in anything he said.”
Hani desperately wanted to come home after eight months laboring in Libya. He was sick and tired of the relentless violence and the constant threat of kidnapping. But leaving was a difficult choice. There was money in Libya, unlike in Al Aour, money that he needed to support Magda and his children. But he finally decided to come home to his family, she said. He was killed before he ever got a chance to leave.
“He took care of all of us,” Magda…