GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A prominent Palestinian Christian activist was found dead on a Gaza City street Sunday, sending a shudder of fear through a tiny Christian community feeling increasingly insecure since the Islamic Hamas seized control last summer.
The body of Rami Khader Ayyad, the 32-year-old director of Gaza's only Christian bookstore, bore a visible gunshot wound to the head, and an official at Gaza's Shifa Hospital said he was also stabbed numerous times. Ayyad had been missing since Saturday afternoon.
Ayyad regularly received anonymous death threats from angry people who accused him of missionary work, a rarity among Gaza's Christians. His store, which is associated with a Christian group called the Palestinian Bible Society, was firebombed in April.
"We feel Rami was killed for his Christian faith," said Simon Azazian, a spokesman at the Bible Society's head office in Jerusalem.
About 3,200 Christians live in Gaza among 1.4 million Muslims, and the Christian community has grown uneasy since Hamas routed forces of the secular Fatah movement and seized control of the coastal strip in June. During the takeover, vandals ransacked a Roman Catholic convent and an adjacent school, breaking crosses and smashing the face of a ceramic Jesus.
Ayyad had been increasingly worried about threats on his store, Azazian said.
On Friday, he noticed that he was being followed by a car with no license plates. Ayyad called his family Saturday afternoon to tell them he had been abducted but would be freed later in the evening, said Azazian. Police were notified, but his body was found the next morning.
Ayyad left two young children and a pregnant wife.
In recent months, shadowy Islamic groups have carried out dozens of attacks on Internet cafes, music shops and other targets associated with the West.