.- The killing of seven in a drive-by shooting that targeted Egyptian Coptic Christians leaving a Christmas Eve midnight Mass has triggered clashes with police during a funeral procession for the victims.
The shooting took place in the town of Nag Hamadi, 40 miles from the large southern Egyptian city of Luxor, on Jan. 5, which is Christmas Eve in the Coptic calendar. Three men sprayed automatic gunfire into a church crowd.
Bishop Kiroloss told the Associated Press he decided to end the service at St. Johnâs Church an hour early because of threats. His parishioners had been abused in the street and he had received a threatening text message which said âIt is your turn.â
"For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas Eve," he said.
The bishop left the church minutes before the attack, but a car swerved near him so he took the back door.
âBy the time I shook hands with someone at the gate, I heard the mayhem, lots of machine gun shots.â
Six Christians and a security guard were killed, the Telegraph reports. Egyptâs interior ministry said the attack was thought to be retaliation for the rape of a 12-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man in Nag Hamadi in November.
Police have identified the lead attacker, a known criminal. Security has been strengthened in the town and checkpoints are in place on roads to ease fears of more attacks.
About 5,000 people attended the funeral.
Coptic Christian protesters clashed with police, threw stones at cars and set fire to ambulances.
The shootings added to Coptsâ grievances, which the Telegraph says include charges of increasing harassment, prejudice in acquiring government jobs, and police failure to investigate attacks on Christian property.
At the beginning of the swine flu H1N1 pandemic last year, the Egyptian government ordered the slaughter of thousands of pigs farmed by Copts in Cairo. Farmers saw the culling as an attack on their freedoms, as most Egyptians are Muslims who view pork as unclean.
In November, massive mobs of Muslims attacked Coptic Christians and their businesses in the Egyptian town of Farshoot 300 miles south of Cairo. The mobsâ looting, vandalism and arson caused at least $1 million in damage and forced Copts to hide indoors for fear of their lives.
The attacks were sparked by a claim that a 20-year-old Christian man, taken into police custody, had a relationship with a 12-year-old Muslim girl.
The Copts are descended from Egyptian converts to Christianity in the first century A.D.