Egypt mourns more Christian victims. Caught between anger and prayer, citizens cry out for security
by Loula Lahham

The testimony of a survivor: "They asked us to proclaim the Muslim faith. We refused. Then they opened fire. " Protests mount across the nation accusing authorities and the government of [timid] fight against terrorism. Muslims and Christians queue to donate blood. The first funeral celebrated yesterday.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - "They took our jewellery and money, saying that it was their right to do so because we were their hostages. Later, they asked us to proclaim the Muslim faith [and convert], but we refused. At that point, they started open fire on us. " This is the dramatic testimony of one of the survivors of an armed commando attack against a group of Coptic Christians from Minneh, Egypt, gathered by AsiaNews. The identity of the assailants is still unknown, although jihadist members of the Islamic State have long been active in the area.

Protests have erupted across the country, critical of the attackers and authorities, unable to guarantee the security of citizens. "Our interior minister pays homage to the bodies of the victims," ​says Fr. William Sidhom, Egyptian Jesuit - instead of protecting living citizens from the attacks. "

There are also those who point their finger against the teachings that are being transmitted in mosques and the Koranic schools. "There is no real intention," says Ossama Tharwat, a young Copt from Minya, to fight terrorism. As long as it goes on, there will be religious edicts coming from Salafi's radical sheikhs, political parties of a religious matrix, and a religious discourse that foments violence against Christians, and we will witness more and more tragedy every day. "

Those who accuse the Copts of  "apostasy"  are "complicit" of the crime, warns former minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour that it is not possible to allow extremist leaders to issue "religious edicts" which then trigger this chain of murders. "Even before judging the assassins - says the Muslim Medhat Mokhtar - we must judge the proponents of these plans, those who finance them and those who do nothing to oppose them."

Dozens of people have died in the attack: up to 35, according to sources of the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch, although the Cairo government speaks of 29 dead and 22 injured, some of whom seriously. The death toll could increase in the next few hours. The victims, including several children, were on board a bus, a minibus, and a pickup truck and left the Coptic Church of Maghagha, 180km south of Cairo.

On the way to the orthodox Amba Samuel monastery, where a prayer function was planned, they were blocked by three cars; The assailants, wearing military uniforms, board the vehicles. After asking for their faith and stripping them of their possessions, they opened fire on against men, women and children. Among the minibus occupants, only three children and one woman escaped death.

The victims' relatives flocked hospitals in the area in search of their loved ones. In a mixture of anger and exasperation, many asked authorities not to proceed with an autopsy on the corpses but to be allowed to bury them. In the late afternoon of yesterday, the first funerals were celebrated. The desperation of family members has united dozens of Christians and Muslims in the area in solidarity who wanted to donate blood for the worst injured.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi chaired an emergency meeting and ordered the attack on "terrorist training centers" in Derna, near Libya. In recent days, several ambassadors and foreign diplomats had received warnings about a possible new attack - without specifying their nature - against Christians in Egypt, demanding their citizens to avoid public gatherings.

There remains the pain and sorrow of an entire country, once again mourning victims of Jihadist violence because of their faith.  More dead after the explosions at the churches of last month [Palm Sunday] and the attack on the Coptic St. Catherine cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, in December. Excursions to the ancient convents, says Emad Khalil, originally from Al-Adwa, are "the only fun opportunity for these children and young people who do not have anything." "They killed them before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan," adds Michael Fares, Egyptian journalist - perhaps because it is 'haram' [prohibited] to do so during the fast. But is it lawful to kill on an ordinary day? " "Forgive me, Lord - concludes Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris - but I cannot turn the other cheek and I cannot love my enemies”.