Coptic bishop real target in Christmas attack in Egypt
"I was the one intended to be assassinated by this plot, and when it failed the criminals turned round and started shooting and finishing off the young ones," Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hammagi Diocese told Middle East Christian Association (MECA) today in an interview.
In the evening of 6 January, at the end of the Christmas vigil, at least three gunmen began spraying bullets from two cars against people filing out of the church.
A security guard and six Christians were killed, mostly young men in their early 20s. A young couple and a 14-years-old boy were also among the dead.
Bishop Kirollos said there had been threats in the days leading up to the Christmas Eve service, a reason he decided to start Mass an hour earlier than normal. "For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas Eve," he said.
The bishop left the church minutes before the attack. "A driving car swerved near me, so I took the back door," he said. "By the time I shook hands with someone at the gate, I heard the mayhem, lots of machine-gun shots."
For the prelate, Egyptian security forces were negligent. Even though that they had been warned of the tense situation, they did not provide adequate protection to the church.
Tensions between Christians and Muslims in Nag Hammadi have been rising in the past few months after a young Christian man was accused of raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl.
For Copts, the rape charges are a pretext, and point to the fact that police has not arrested the accused. However, because of the accusations, which were made in November, Christians have been attacked in Farshout, Abu Shusha, Aerky and Alshokeify, which are part of the parish of Nag Hammadi.
According to Egypt's official news agency, police have recovered one of the two cars used in the drive-by shooting and identified the three perpetrators.
However, during yesterday's funeral, attended by at least 5,000 faithful, police had to use tear gas to stop people from stoning them. Some ambulances were also attacked.
"People are angry and worried," Bishop Kirollos said. Some Copts point out that for years TV, radio and newspapers have preached intolerance towards Copts.