Tripoli (AsiaNews) - "The lack of security, armed militias and arms trafficking are hindering the work of Catholic clergymen and lay people in Tripolitania, not Muslim extremism," local sources told AsiaNews, anonymous for security reasons. The attack in Tripoli last Saturday against Fr Magdi Helmi, a Catholic priest from Egypt, by armed men is the result of the chaos created by the fall of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi, not anti-Christian hatred.
Fr Helmi is parish priest at St Francis Catholic Church in Tripoli. Over the years, he worked with young Christians living in the Libyan capital, especially Arab Christians, and migrants from Sudan.
"His attack must be seen against a backdrop of widespread crime and violence," sources said. "Until now, such attacks are not due to anti-Christian hatred by Muslim extremists." That problem is found in Cyrenaica, where Islamists are stronger.
"In Benghazi, Derna and other cities, foreigners, mostly Christians, are victims of ever more serious acts of discrimination. Even so, it is still too early to think that there is a plan to expel all Christians from Libya."
Since Gaddafi's fall, the number of attacks against foreign residents has increased. The most affected are Egyptians, especially Catholic and Orthodox Copts. On 3 February, an armed group attacked a religious building in the capital of Cyrenaica and assaulted two Coptic clergymen, Fr Paul Isaac and his assistant.
On 28 February, the authorities arrested 48 Egyptian peddlers on charges of proselytising. Twenty were eventually sent home following the intervention of Egyptian authorities.
Also last month, four foreigners from Egypt, South Africa, South Korea and a Swede with a US passport were arrested for allegedly circulating Bibles and other religious material. They are currently in a Tripoli jail waiting for trial.
Catholic religious orders have also been targeted by Muslim militias despite operating in the country for decades in hospitals and nursing homes.
In January, Islamists forced the Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus out of the city of Bayda.
In October, the same thing happened to the Sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Family of Spoleto in Derna who felt they had to leave the city even though local residents wanted them to stay. (S.C.)