03/05/2013, 00.00
LIBYA
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Gunmen attack Coptic Orthodox church in Benghazi, assault two clergymen

Islamists try to lynch Fr Paul Isaac, an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox priest, and his assistant. Although the incident occurred on 3 February, it was only reported last night. This is the third attack against the country's Christian community. The Libyan government condemns the attack, calling it an attack against Islam.

Benghazi (AsiaNews) - Islamic militiamen attacked Benghazi's Coptic Orthodox Church on 3 February. During the incident in the capital of Cyrenaica, the gunmen assaulted two clergymen, Fr Paul Isaac and his assistant, whose name was not released, state-owned Libyan News Agency (LANA) reported last night.

The foreign ministry said it "strongly condemned Thursday's attack on the Egyptian church" and expressed "deep concern" over the attack, saying it was "contrary to the rules" of Islam.

Benghazi's Coptic community has not yet made any public statement on the matter. Speaking to AsiaNews, local Copts said that the community chose silence fearing more attacks.

In December, an explosion at a building belonging to a Coptic church in Dafniya, close to the western city of Misratah, killed two Egyptian men and wounded two others.

In another case of anti-Christian persecution, 48 Egyptian peddlers were arrested in Benghazi last Thursday on suspicion of proselytising. Eventually, 20 were sent home after Egyptian authorities intervened.

Also last month, four foreigners, an Egyptian, a South African, a Korean and a Swede who was travelling on a US passport, were arrested in Benghazi on suspicion of being Christian missionaries and printing books about Christianity. They are now in prison in Tripoli waiting for trial.

With the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, killed in October 2011, Libya has turned into a hub for radical Muslim groups and militias from across the Middle East and North Africa.

Catholic religious orders have also been targeted by Muslim extremists despite operating in the country for decades in hospitals and nursing homes.

For example, 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.)

 

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