Six Coptic Christians and a Muslim security guard were killed outside a church in southern Egypt on Wednesday 6th January. The victims were shot as they left a Christmas Eve service (Christmas is celebrated in Egypt on 7th January).
Two vehicles approached St John’s Coptic Othodox Church in the town of Nagaa Hammadi, 64km (40 miles) from Luxor, as worshippers were leaving a Christmas Eve Mass. Gunfire was sprayed into the crowd. Seven people were killed and ten others were injured, including two Muslim passers-by.
Amgad Shehata Boutros, attending the funeral of the six Copts, told Al Jazeera: “This is definitely not Egypt, it’s more like the end of days.This is an attempt to create sectarianism in Nagaa Hammadi. What fault did those killed have? They were just walking out of the church, celebrating Christmas, and the next thing they knew they were being fired at. What crime did they commit?”
The authorities believe that the attack was intended as retaliation for the alleged rape of a young Muslim girl by a Christian man in November, which triggered five days of widespread sectarian violence in the area.
Bishop Kirollos, who led the Mass, said he was concerned about violence on the eve of Coptic Christmas, when hegot a message on his mobile phone saying,“It is your turn.”
“I did nothing with it. My faithful were also receiving threats in the streets, some shouting at them: ‘We will not let you have festivities’,” he said. Bishop Kirollos said he ended his Christmas Mass one hour earlier than normal because of the threats.
Bishop Kirollos said he had an idea of who the attackers were, calling them “Muslim radicals”. “It is all religious now. This is a religious war about how they can finish off the Christians in Egypt,” he said.
Three Muslim men were arrested two days after the attack and charged with murder. Police have also arrested many Coptic teenagers in a move to appear even-handed.
Christians, mostly Coptic, account for about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 83-million, predominantly Muslim, population. (AFP, Al Jazeera, Middle East Concern)