07/01/2016, 18.20
EGYPT

For Catholic Church spokesman, Christians are seen as "legitimate targets" in Sinai

Extremist militias view non-Wahhabis as enemies to attack, says Fr Rafic Greiche. The Sinai has a long history of violence, with churches and priests seen as “legitimate targets”. It is “no accident” that a Coptic priest was recently killed on the anniversary of Morsi’s ouster.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – In the Sinai, "Christians have been targeted by Wahhabi-inspired terrorists for some time”. For the latter, religions minorities and other Muslims groups “are enemies to fight,” said Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, who spoke to AsiaNews after a Coptic priest was gunned down yesterday in the peninsula.

"This area has already seen Jihadi violence, with the killing of soldiers, policemen, and soldiers,” the clergyman said. “Local churches, priests and religious are considered legitimate targets."

The Islamic State (IS) group appears to be behind yesterday’s murder of Fr Raphael Moussa, 46, who was shot in the head. A pro-IS website claimed responsibility for the murder.

He was standing next to his car in the city of El-Arish, a coastal town and capital of the province of North Sinai, only 20 km away from the border with Gaza. The area remains lawless overrun by militias and gun runners.

After he celebrated Mass, the priest, a married father of two, had taken his car to a mechanic for repairs. Within minutes of his arrival at the garage, he was shot dead.

He had been serving at the St George Parish in El-Arish since 2012. On social media, the pro-Caliphate group claimed that he was punished for “combating Islam”.

"This mind-set is rooted in these groups,” Fr Greiche said. “They must be fought militarily, but also by educating new generations. This process takes time, but it is necessary."

Raphael Moussa came to the area with Fr Mina Aboud, another Coptic priest who was killed in July 2013 by extremist militias, at a time when violence spiked following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yesterday's murder coincides with the anniversary of the large-scale demonstration on 30 June 2013 that led to Morsi’s ouster by current president, General al-Sisi, and the banning of the Brotherhood.

Islamist groups have never forgiven Coptic Christians for siding with al-Sisi, who today is the guarantor of national unity and defender religious freedom, although critics accuse him of using force to repress dissent and violate civil rights.

For Fr Rafic Greiche, the attack against the priest and the anniversary are “no accident”. Yesterday. “some Christian homes were burnt in Minya."

These violent incidents could be "revenge from Morsi’s supporters, who want to attack Christians because they did not support the president". In any event, "whenever there is a recurrence or a sensitive anniversary attacks occur."

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