05/08/2011, 00.00
EGYPT - ISLAM
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At least 9 dead and two churches burned near Cairo

Clashes at the church of St. Mina in north-east of the capital. Church of the Virgin Mary and the Al Azra burnt. Hundreds injured. The Salafists have accused the Coptic Church of holding women who have converted to Islam prisoners.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - At least 9 dead and 116 wounded is the outcome of a violent assault by a group of Muslims against Christians in Imbaba, a suburb northeast of the Egyptian capital.

According to witnesses, about 500 Salafist Islamists gathered yesterday evening in front of the Coptic church of St. Mina demanding the surrender of a woman who, according to them, had converted to Islam and is held captive by the Christians. After heated discussions between the guards of the church, clashes erupted complete with gun fire, petrol bombs and stones.

A church nearby, that of the Virgin Mary was set on fire. Another church, Al Azra, has been damaged by fire. The army arrived en masse and took a long time to separate the two groups and restore calm.

Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt, has called for calm and urged all Egyptians to "stay close to each other to prevent clashes." He also asked the Military Council to block all those who threaten the security of Egypt.

Clashes between Copts and Muslims are common in the country, fuelled by a situation of exclusion suffered by Christians. The fall of Mubarak and commitment shared by Christians and Muslims for a more democratic society, had given rise to hope for a reduction of inter-religious tensions. But in the lead up to elections in September and the power of Muslim groups (Muslim Brotherhood), there is a growing fear of violence.

The Salafist groups - which follow a radical interpretation of the Koran – have frequently accused Christians of holding women who converted to Islam prisoners. Even the attack on the church of Alexandria in Egypt last January 1 was apparently caused by the accusations against the Patriarch Shenouda III of holding two women converts to Islam captive (see Europe and Islam in the wake of attacks against Copts in Alexandria).
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