• Copts
  • April 16, 2006
  • 4 minutes read

EGYPT : On security alert after attack on Coptic Church

Egyptian security forces deployed around Coptic churches in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria Saturday following attacks that left one person dead, the official MENA news agency reported. 

The move came as Noshi Atta Girgis, fatally stabbed Friday by a man officials said was mentally unstable, was to be buried.

At least five others were wounded in the attacks on three churches.

The interior ministry said Mahmud Salaheddin Abdul Razek, 25, had been arrested.

Alexandria Judge Samy Breik remanded Abdul Razak into custody for four days, charged with murder, illegal entry into a place of worship and illegal possession of weapons.

While the interior ministry spoke of only one assailant, police said there were in fact two attackers carrying knives, and put the number of wounded at 12.

Witnesses said Abdul Razak shouted “there is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God”, a Muslim chant, as he carried out his attacks.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria denounced the incident.

“We consider this crime an attack against all the Egyptian people, Muslim and Copt,” a statement said, calling on security forces to protect places of worship.

It also warned against using the incident to “threaten the unity of the Egyptian people”.

Egyptian Copts typically attend weekly mass on Friday, which is also the Muslim holy day and marks the beginning of the weekend.

They make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s overwhelmingly Muslim population of 73 million and complain of discrimination by the regime.

Coptic faithful, religious leaders and intellectuals expressed fear of further harassment following the surge of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections last autumn to become Egypt’s largest opposition movement.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Issam Al Aryan expressed disbelief over the security forces’ failure to prevent the attack.

“It’s very sad news. I cannot understand what the security and police were doing. They are supposed to be guarding the churches,” he told AFP.

The deadliest recent communal clashes occurred in October 2005 when Muslim protestors attacked a church in Alexandria which they accused of having hosted a play they deemed offensive to Islam, killing three people.

A 19-year-old Muslim who stabbed a nun during the rioting was sentenced to three years in jail in February.

A string of lesser incidents have been reported in different parts of the country in recent months, fueling fears of growing sectarian strife.

The United States condemned Friday’s attacks and urged Cairo to work to defuse tensions between Christian and Muslims.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the attacks appear to have been timed for the Orthodox Christian Palm Sunday weekend. Western Christianity celebrates Easter on Sunday, but most eastern Christians will do so on April 23.

“This act of violence against worshippers on a holy day for the Christian Coptic community in Alexandria is unacceptable and must be condemned,” he said in a statement.

McCormack called on the Coptic and Muslim communities of Alexandria to remain calm and urged the Egyptian government to quickly bring those responsible to justice.

“We also would ask the Egyptian government to continue its efforts to defuse the situation, including providing effective security for all places of worship and calling upon people of all communities to refrain from further violence and incitement.”