Eight Copts were shot to death at the entrance of the church during an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. Two police officers also died. Lives were saved thanks to the quick response by Muslim worshippers to an appeal by the imam of the neighbouring mosque to rescue 'Coptic brothers’. Since 2011, the Copts have been targeted by Islamists.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – An crowd of hundreds of angry and sobbing men and women with dozens of bishops, priests and men and women religious accompanied the burial of some of the victims of the latest terror attack against Egypt’s Coptic community. Cries of sorrow stopped several times the recitation of prayers and the reading of the Gospel in what has become an all too familiar sight this year in Egypt.
Yesterday evening, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Helwan buried eight members of his congregation gunned down at the entrance of the Mar Mina (Saint Menas) Church, in the homonymous area, about 30 km south of the Egyptian capital of Cairo.
The attack claimed by the Islamic State group was launched Friday morning, when hooded men opened fire with automatic weapons against worshippers making their way to the church for the usual Friday Mass.*
The gunmen began their operation by first attacking a business owned by two Coptic brothers who were killed, then headed for the church entrance, where they killed six more people, including three women. When two police officers in charge of church security spotted them, they tried to stop them, but they, too, were killed. As a whole, the shooting caused the deaths of the two merchants, six worshippers and two policemen. Five other peoples were seriously wounded. In front of the church, two explosive devices were defused by security experts.
According to Father Andraos Azmi, parish priest of the Mar Mina Church, the attackers first killed the police officers who were in charge of church security, as is usually the case at Christmas and end-of-year celebrations. They then tried to get inside the church "but we quickly shut the doors. However, they were able to kill some worshippers at the entrance." Another priest, Father Antonio Daniel, praised the role of the imam of the mosque opposite the church, who announced on his loudspeaker that the church was under attack and that it was necessary to save it, urging Muslim worshippers to leave the mosque to rescue their Coptic brothers. These two facts are significant since, had they not occurred, the number of victims would have been much higher.
Since the revolutions of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, the Copts, Egypt’s Christians, have been the target of deadly attacks by the various supporters of political Islam like the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, the Islamic State (Daesh) and members of Wilayet Sinai, the Egyptian branch of Daesh, located in the Sinai Peninsula.
In addition to today's shooting, on 22December, some five thousand Muslim protesters shouting anti-Christian slogans headed for a small church in the suburbs of Giza in order to demolish it. They profaned it before security forces dispersed them.
On 26 May of this year, a bus carrying Christian pilgrims visiting the Amba Samuel Monastery, in the Western Desert, was attacked by terrorists who killed at least 28 people and wounded 22 others.
On Palm Sunday, two churches in two cities in northern Egypt, Alexandria and Tanta, were bombed and 43 people were killed.
Last February, hundreds of Copts fled Al-El- Arīsh, capital of North Sinai Governorate, abandoning their homes and belongings after the members of Wilayet Sinai killed seven of them in the space of three weeks.
The year 2016 was no better. Thirty people died in the explosion at the Boutrossiya Church, in the heart of Cairo near the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
The overall picture also includes abductions, discrimination and marginalisation, violence and forced marriages of young Christian women and girls.
All said, the official celebration of the Coptic Christmas Mass, led by Pope Tawadros II, will take place in a new cathedral built in Egypt’s future administrative capital in the presence of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The area, which 63,000 m2, will hold some 8,000 people, divided into two large chapels. Dozens of activity rooms are included in the compound.
What follows are some of the reactions to yesterday’s tragic events.
I woke up the day of my weekly day off startled by the sound of the automatic weapons used in the attack.
Madam, do you see how happy people are? This is the gift they give us every year on the same date.
(unknown pedestrian to Caroline Kamel, Coptic journalist)
Muslims are not all terrorists. Security agents lost their lives defending the church. The sheikh of the mosque called on the residents of the neighbourhood to rescue their Coptic brothers. Muslims actually detained one of the perpetrators, and many of them donated blood to hospitals that treated the wounded. There is still hope in this country.
(John Abdel-Messih, Coptic witness)
The video of the attacker walking with his gun calmly down an empty street is shocking. Is there a security expert who can explain it?
(Gamal Sultan, Islamist journalist)
Is killing more acceptable to God than telling my Christian neighbour "Merry Christmas"? Where did our values and humanity go?
(Dr. Twitter, alias of a net surfer)
The state considers that each attack is a success in its fight against members of the so-called Islamic State. However, there is no evidence that terrorism against the Copts, Muslims, police and the army will end. On the contrary, their number is increasing.
(Chadi Al-Ghazali Harb, political activist)
* Mass is held on Friday mornings in lieu of Sunday Mass because the latter is a work day in Muslim countries.