Wednesday, January 06, 2010

6 killed at Coptic church in Nag Hammadi, Egypt

This is a shocking attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt: Gunmen kill 6 at Egypt church after Coptic Christmas Mass.
Gunmen killed at least six people in a drive-by shooting outside a church in southern Egypt as worshippers left a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas, Egyptian security and hospital officials said overnight Wednesday.

The attack took place in the town of Nag Hamadi in Qena province, about 64 kilometers from the famous ancient ruins of Luxor.

A local security official said two gunmen drove by a group as they were walking out of the Virgin Mary church and sprayed gunfire randomly into the crowd. The official said at least six people had died and an administrator at the hospital where the casualties were taken said seven were dead.
This attack apparently was not unexpected. Al-Jazeera reports:
The interior ministry said the attack in the town of Nag Hammadi in southern Qena province, located about 65km from the famous ancient ruins of Luxor, was suspected to be in retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town.

The ministry said witnesses had identified the lead attacker.

Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hammadi Diocese told The Associated Press that six male churchgoers and one security guard were killed.

He said he was concerned about violence on the eve of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Thursday, because of previous threats following the rape of the 12-year-old girl in November.

'Your turn'

He got 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.

Kirollos said he ended his Christmas Mass one hour earlier than normal because of the threats.

He said Muslim residents of Nag Hammadi and neighbouring villages had rioted for five days in November and torched and damaged Christian properties in the area after the rape.

"For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas day," said the bishop, adding that police had told him to stay home for fear of further violence.

The bishop 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.

Christians, mostly Coptic, account for about 10 per cent of Egypt's 83-million predominantly Muslim population.
Update - today Coptic Christians rioted in Nag Hammadi during the funeral procession.
Thousands clashed with police during a funeral procession Thursday for six of seven people killed in an attack on churchgoers leaving a midnight Mass for Coptic Christians, security officials said.
Throughout the day, protesters in the southern town of Nag Hamadi pelted police with rocks and damaged cars and stores.

Early in the day, they smashed ambulances outside a hospital in frustration over delays in turning over the bodies for burial. A security official said police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The riots resumed after the burial services, with angry Copts smashing shop windows, chasing Muslims off the streets and bringing down street light poles. The riots continued into the late afternoon.
An important fact mentioned in the above article about the relations between Muslims and Copts in Egypt:
As Islamic conservatism gains ground, Egypt's Christians have increasingly complained about discrimination by the Muslim majority. Coptic Christians are limited in where they can build churches and must obtain government approval before expanding existing facilities. The government insists Christians enjoy the same rights as Muslims.
The requirement that Coptic Christians must seek government approval for expanding churches seems to be a milder version of the old rules of the dhimma, which forbade Christians or Jews from building new houses or worship or repairing existing ones.

As Jim Davila commented yesterday in Paleojudaica, Nag Hammadi is where the ancient Coptic Gnostic library was discovered in the 1940s.

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