ASSIUT, Egypt (AP) — An Egyptian Christian who died in prison in Libya after he was detained on suspicion of proselytizing there was buried Wednesday in a subdued ceremony in his hometown in southern Egypt.
The priest of the local church, Baqi Sadaqa, told worshippers at the funeral that Ezzat Atallah's death earlier this week was a "crime against Egypt," and expressed concern about Islamists' rising power in Egypt and Libya.
Few official details have emerged about his death. He was accused by Islamic militias groups of proselytizing in Libya. Sadaqa said Atallah was held and tortured by Islamic militants in Benghazi for 11 days in two different places before he was transferred to Tripoli. There, his wife was able to meet him, and she saw signs of torture on his body. Sadaqa said he told his wife that he was beaten, hung by ropes and lashed.
Sadaqa said Atallah, an Evangelical Christian, died three days after he was held in another prison in Tripoli. An Egyptian diplomat has said he likely died of natural causes. Atallah suffered from diabetes and a heart ailment.
It was not clear who transferred Atallah to a prison in Tripoli or under what circumstances. Scores of Egyptian Christians protested this week after reports emerged of Atallah's death and the detention of as many as 100 of others by Islamic militias on suspicion they were spreading Christianity in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
Last week, Egypt's Foreign Ministry intervened to win release from Libya of 55 Egyptians who were also suspected of proselytizing. Thirty-five of them were deported for illegally entering the country, while 20 were cleared to stay in Libya.
Four foreigners under investigation for alleged espionage and proselytizing remain in a Libyan prison. They are a Swedish-American, a South Korean, a South African and an Egyptian. Atallah had lived in Libya for more than 10 years. He ran a mobile phone business, and his wife operated a children nursery in Benghazi.
The priest, Sadaqa, said the wife will be returning to Libya, but he said he feared for her life and the lives of other Christians in the area.