Attack on Egyptian churches leaves 12 dead, hundreds injured
Coptic Christians protest in Cairo, Egypt on May 9, 2011 / Photo Credit: Maggie Osama (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)
Coptic Christians protest in Cairo, Egypt on May 9, 2011 / Photo Credit: Maggie Osama (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

.- Members of the Salafist Jihadi Islamist movement attacked three Coptic churches in the Egyptian city of Giza on May 7, killing a dozen people and injuring more than 200.

“We have no law or security – we are in a jungle,” said Giza's Coptic Orthodox Bishop Anba Theodosius. “We are in a state of chaos. One rumor burns the whole area. Every day we have a catastrophe.”

But the Copts “will never leave our country,” the bishop added according to the Assyrian International News Agency,

The attack began on the evening of May 7 when a mob of 3,000 Muslims, thought to be followers of the hardline Salafist school of Islam, converged on St. Mina's Church. Leaders of the mob accused members of the Coptic clergy of kidnapping a Christian woman who had married a Muslim man.

Their kidnapping story sounded like a familiar pretext, a variation on a story used to stir up tensions and justify violence against Middle Eastern Christians in the past. None of the parishioners had ever heard of the woman being “tortured” inside of their church.

When the mob said they wanted to “search” the church, the Christians refused. Afraid of what would happen next, they made emergency calls trying to get police protection. One priest said that six police officers showed up, but left the church as rioters and snipers began shooting parishioners.

When the army arrived, nearly five hours later, they made an attempt to seal off the neighborhood. But they did not stop rioters from attacking St. Mina's Church, hurling Molotov cocktails at Coptic homes, and proceeding to two other churches in the area.

“The army was not able to control the situation,” Deacon Youssel Edward stated. “The mob was chanting 'Islamic, Islamic.'”

According to local reports, the 3,000-strong crowd of Salafists prevented firefighters from reaching the nearby Church of St. Mary and St. Abanoub as they attacked it and shot parishioners. A third church, St. Mary's, had its entire first floor burned.

When the violence ended 14 hours later, 12 people were dead and 232 were reportedly wounded. Hundreds of outraged Christians and sympathetic Muslims demonstrated in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Sunday, demanding better protection from the police and military for Coptic Christians.

Nabil Sharaf el Din, an Egyptian journalist, told a Coptic television station that the army “is either incapable, or is an accomplice to the Salafis.” He said that the Egyptian military, which took power after the Feb 11 resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak, could end up discredited if it fails to take a “stern position” with the hardline Muslim group.

Of the 3,000 people who reportedly stormed the three churches, 190 have been arrested. The military and civil courts have not reached an agreement on how to prosecute those accused of the attacks.

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