Cairo, risk of attacks: church security boosted ahead of Coptic Christmas

The measures follow the recent wave of bloody attacks that hit the Christian minority. Armored personnel, armed men, plainclothes officers guard the most important places of worship. Security expert: Coptic "easy" objective and guarantee of "wide visibility" on an international level.


Cairo (AsiaNews) - The Egyptian authorities have strengthened checks and security measures around the churches and the most important Christian places of worship in the capital, Cairo, and the main cities of the country for fear of attacks. Police and army patrol the areas in front of the buildings in view of the end of year celebrations and the Orthodox Christmas on January 7th. The measures follow the bloody attacks, even recent ones, that have hit the Coptic minority at the hands of Islamic extremist groups.

Security officials have initiated inspection procedures on churches in the various provinces of Egypt, in an attempt to counter the escalation of attacks by jihadist groups. Attacks that have increased in the last period, in response to the "Sinai 2018" operation launched by the authorities against Islamic terrorist organizations.

Egyptian army sources quoted by the newspaper An-Nahar claim that "most" extremist groups are targeting "places of worship". In addition, many of these "church attacks" are launched concurrently with major holidays such as Christmas or Easter. Hence the decision to allocate armored vehicles, armed men and troops in uniform - as well as security agents in civilian clothes - in sensitive places "as never before" in Egypt.

From President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the government authorities, the goal is to convey an image of security and full control of the country, which aims - also - on religious tourism and not to revive an economy in difficulty. Intelligence environments add that, to the protection of places of worship, they are flanked by undercover operations aimed at dismantling the extremist cells ready to strike.

Among the sensitive objectives there are Christian churches and places of worship, seen as a "weak link" in the chain and an accessible target for fundamentalists. Munir Adib, security expert, stresses that the Coptic minority "is an easy target" and "an attack against it also guarantees wide visibility" at an international level.

In a Muslim majority nation of almost 95 million people, Christians [especially Orthodox Copts] are a substantial minority of around 10% of the total population. Between 2016 and 2017 a series of bloody attacks targeted the Christian community itself.