03/18/2010, 00.00
EGYPT
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Egyptian police arrest 13 Copts, victims of attack by Islamic extremists

Four minors between 13 and 17, also stopped but later released. A detention order of 15 days issued for Christians and Muslims. Charged with damaging public property, arson and assault. Association for Human Rights promotes an international conference.

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Egyptian security forces have arrested 13 Coptic Christians - including four minors, subsequently released - victims of the attack on 12 March. They are being charged with illegal religious assembly, damage to public property, arson and assault. About a dozen Muslims, from a total of 2000 perpetrators, have been detained over the assault against 400 Coptic faithful at the Church of St. Michael in Mersa Matrouh in the north-west of Egypt.

The violence was sparked by extremists, incited by the local Imam, Mohamad Khamis Khamis, during Friday prayers. From the microphones of the mosque of Al-Ansar, located near the church of Saint Micheal, near the building that housed the Copts, the Islamist leader urged the faithful to "holy war" against the Christian place of worship, ordering its destruction, and calling for the expulsion of the "infidels."  

The crowd was trapped inside the church and the Copts attacked them, raiding the homes before setting them on fire. The raid resulted in the wounding of 23 Christians, including two seriously, so who have been sent to Victoria Hospital in Alexandria, 200 km away. Sources of the local church denounced the complete devastation of 18 houses, four shops and 18 cars (pictured). "These people are completely ruined," says the activist Wagih Yacoub.  

The attack on the Coptic Christian community lasted over 14 hours. The - delayed – intervention of the security forces prevented carnage. The police transported the parishioners from the church, located in the suburb of Rifiyah, to their homes, which they are patrolling to prevent new attacks by extremists.  

Matta Zakaria, a local priest, reported to the agency AINA "the arrest of four children, aged between 13 and 17 years by the police." By "deception", the agents conducted the youths to the police station asking them to identify the Muslim assailants. Among young people there was also a young man who was not in church during the assault. The boys speak of "insults and beatings" by police, who ordered the release after the intervention of Copt several priests.     The police have opened a file of investigation against those arrested - Christians and Muslims - on charges of illegal religious assembly, damage to public property, arson and assault. The pre-trial detention will last 15 days.    

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization (EUHRO) has called an international conference for 21 March. During the meeting the incidents of Mersa Matrouh will be discussed, caused by a "lack of a state authority," and an appeal will be made to the government to monitor the actions of the imams, the source of sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims.

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