Coptic Christians Gunned Down After Christmas Service in Egypt

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Despite threats of violence from Muslims in an area of Egypt wracked
by sectarian violence, police declined to increase security for a Coptic
Christmas Eve service on Jan. 6, and six Christians were shot to death after
leaving the church.

Three men
suspected to be Muslims, including one with a criminal record sought by police,
were in a moving car from which automatic gunfire hit Coptic Christians who had
attended services at St. John’s Church in Nag Hammadi, 282 miles south of Cairo. A Muslim
security guard was also killed, and nine other Coptic Christians were wounded,
with three of them in critical condition, according to news
reports.

Copts, along
with many Orthodox communities, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.

The primary Muslim suspected of firing the
automatic rifle at the Copts, witnesses reportedly told police, is local
resident Mohammed Ahmed Hussein. Local clergy said Hussein had not been arrested
for previous crimes because he receives protection from officials in the ruling
National Democratic Party.

Hussein
reportedly fired while his car traveled some
400 meters. A
provincial security official told The Associated Press that those killed were
shot 200 meters from the church.


The church’s
bishop told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he had concluded the Christmas Eve
mass an hour early, by 11 p.m., for security reasons. 

The clergyman,
identified only as Bishop Kirilos, told AFP some of those in his congregation
had received cell phone calls threatening that Muslims “will avenge the rape of
the girl during the Christmas celebrations.”

In November a
local 12-year-old Muslim girl was allegedly abducted and raped by a Coptic
youth. In response to the alleged rape, hundreds of Muslim protestors torched
Christian-owned shops in the town of Farshut, near Nag Hammadi.

After killing
those near the church in yesterday’s attack, the bishop reportedly said, the
gunmen continued shooting at Copts in other parts of the town. They reportedly
fired at a convent, which also houses the bishop’s offices, as they left
town.


Thousands of Coptic Christian demonstrators
reportedly took to the streets in Nag Hammadi today to protest lack of
protection from Muslim violence. An estimated 5,000 Copts attended the funeral
for the six Christians victims.

 

AFP reported
that protestors stoned cars during the funeral, and in response police fired
tear gas. Demonstrators reportedly chanted, “With our spirit and blood, we will
sacrifice ourselves for the Cross.”


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