Threat of attacks forces Evangelical and Coptic Churches to shut down activities

The measure, in force for the months of July and August, motivated by fear of terrorist attacks. Pilgrimages, group trips, holidays cancelled, but religious functions will take place without any variation. Armored vehicles and snipers preside over places of worship. Anglican Pastor: We pray "for the security and stability of our country".

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The Coptic and Evangelical Christians in Egypt have suspended some of their activities - including pilgrimages, summer colonies and conferences - for security reasons, fearing new attacks by jihadist groups or Islamist extremist cells. The measure, which will remain in force for the months of July and August, was issued following alerts by the Cairo authorities.

Reverend Andrea Zaki, leader of the local Evangelical Church, reports that "[security] agencies have informed us about the discovery of attack plans" by extremist groups. The measure will not, however, concern the masses and other religious functions that will take place on a regular basis.

Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman Bolus Halim confirmed a similar measure to protect the faithful.

The alert was circulated to representatives of the Churches in Egypt during a meeting that took place in the southern city of Assiut, in the presence of the highest exponents of the army and security. The generals also set up the allocation of armed vehicles and snipers outside the monasteries, during the most important celebrations.

Two of these major events will take place at Assiut, home to a substantial Christian community, and attract millions of faithful from all over the country.

In a letter issued yesterday an Anglican Reverend announced the cancellation of a trip to the tourist resort of Hurghada, on the Red Sea. The Christian leader made the decision "for your safety." "Join in prayer - concludes Mohsen Naeem - for the security and stability of our country."

In recent months, the Egyptian Christian community has been the subject of a series of attacks, the last of which was the assault on a Coptic pilgrim bus on May 26, which killed dozens of people. Since December, almost a hundred members of the religious minority (about 10% of the total population, equal to 90 million inhabitants) have been killed by Islamic fundamentalists. These include the victims of the Palm Sunday attacks on churches, and the those killed in the attack on St. Mark's Coptic cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, in December. In the hours after the attacks, Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State] claimed the attacks and threatened new violence against the minority in the country.

The escalation of violence had initially undermined plans for Pope Francis's apostolic journey to Egypt, scheduled for late April. However, the pontiff wanted to respect the initial program by meeting President al-Sisi, the great imam of al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayeb, and celebrating a Mass in front of tens of thousands of faithful. (DS)