01/07/2010, 00.00
EGYPT

Nag Hamadi: armed commando attacks Coptic Christians, seven dead and three wounded

The incident happened at midnight last night, after Christmas Mass which the Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on January 7. The attack was revenge for an alleged case of sexual assault against a twelve year old, which occurred last November.

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The death toll from an attack against the Christian Copts in Egypt is seven dead and three wounded. Yesterday, shortly before midnight, an armed commando opened fire on a group of faithful of the church of St John in Nag Hamadi, in the province of Qena, 64 miles from Luxor. Sources in the Ministry of the Interior explain that the assault was a response to an alleged case of sexual assault, which occurred last November. The Muslim community has accused a Christian of raping a 12 year old girl.

Local witnesses report that a group of three armed men in a car opened fire on the faithful. The Christian community had gathered to celebrate Christmas midnight mass which for the Coptic falls on January 7. The head of the armed commandos, ministerial sources added, have already been identified. The attackers opened fire indiscriminately on the crowd. Among the injured there are two Muslims, who were in the vicinity of the building at the time of the attack.  

Kirollos, the bishop of the diocese of Nag Hamadi, confirms that the victims are "six faithful and a security guard”. He had left the church a few minutes before the arrival of armed commandos. In recent weeks, the bishop had received threats from Muslim groups. Groups of Muslims shouted "we will not let you celebrate the holidays."

The violence was provoked by the alleged rape of a twelve year old Muslim girl in November last year. In the days that followed, the local Islamic community burnt and damaged Christian buildings and properties. The police asked bishop Kirollos to remain safely at homes, for fear of further violence.  

In Egypt, the Coptic Christian community is about 10% of the population in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. The Christian community it is the victim of violence and persecution, caused by a sharp rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Sometimes the basis of many attacks disputes over land ownership, or over for women, but they soon become sectarian clashes.

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