Measured (AsiaNews) - "The Orthodox Copts in Libya celebrated their Christmas in peace. The late December attack on the church of St. George in Dafniya is the first against Christians in Libya. It is, however, an isolated case, which should be read in the light of social and political instability sweeping the country". This according to Msgr. Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, who on January 6 visited the Coptic Orthodox community of Tripoli, bringing with him the Catholic Churches best wishes for the Orthodox Christmas which was celebrated yesterday.
On 30 December, a group of unknown persons attacked the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. George in the province of Dafniya in Misrata. Two Egyptian nationals lost their lives in the explosion. Two more were injured. The attack took place shortly after the end of the mass. The group of assailants waited until the faithful were leaving the Church targeting them with grenades. Timothy Beshara, a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Libya, said that the building was severely damaged, especially the refectory which is now a pile of rubble.
At first, the case was dismissed as a mere "accident", but on pressure from the Egyptian authorities, the government in Tripoli launched investigations to arrest the culprits and dampen rumors of a possible rise of Islamic fundamentalism against Christians.
For Msgr. Martinelli "Christians must above all ask for the protection of the Libyan authorities - says the bishop - helping this new country to grow." According to the prelate there has always been Islamic fundamentalism in Libya, but now the strength of the Islamists is on the wane.
Under the Gaddafi regime about 1.5 million Egyptians worked in Libya. For years, they were the second largest ethnic group after the Libyans. With the start of the civil war more than half of the migrants returned home, but many came back after the fall of Gaddafi. Among them are several thousand Coptic Orthodox Christians, whom together with Catholics and Protestants make up the small local Christian community, which accounts for about 3% of the population.
The coastal town of Dafniya is located about 30 km west of Misrata. The area is still controlled by armed rebel contingents and is the only one that still has roadblocks in the hands of militants. In Misrata, Benghazi and Derna there are different cells of Islamic extremist militant guerrillas also from other Arab countries. On 11 September a group of extremists close to al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi with heavy weapons, killing the U.S. ambassador to Tripoli Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff. (S.C.)