Armed Attack on Cairo Church Highlights Targeting of Copts
By: Mohammad Salah
Within Egypt’s scene of violence, the armed attack on a church near Cairo — in which four were killed — has put the spotlight back on the anti-Copt attacks that have surged after former President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in early July.
One man, an elderly woman and two children were killed, and 17 were wounded, in a shooting on the Church of the Virgin Mary in the poor neighborhood of al-Warraq as wedding guests were leaving.
Witnesses and security sources said that, on Sunday evening [Oct. 20], masked men on a motorcycle stood for about a minute in front of the church when wedding guests were coming out and others were going in to attend another ceremony. One of the masked men opened fire from an automatic weapon at random, killing and injuring a number of those who gathered close to the church door. Then, both men fled the scene.
The gunmen selected a church with no security guards. Gunmen had destroyed the al-Warraq police station on Aug. 14, when the pro-Morsi sit-in [in Rabia al-Adawiya Square in Cairo] was broken up. A security source told Al-Hayat, “Initial investigations point to a terrorist attack, especially because the perpetrators opened fire randomly when two unrelated groups of guests were outside. … Five persons believed to be connected with the attack were arrested.”
The police set up security barriers on the Nile Corniche near the church and cordoned off the attack site. A team of investigators from the public prosecutor’s office arrived on the scene. Thousands attended the victims’ funerals yesterday while shouting anti-terrorism slogans.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi condemned the attack as “vicious” and contacted Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II to present his condolences. Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb and Mufti Shawki Allam condemned the incident and emphasized the sanctity of churches.
The National Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy — which is led by the Muslim Brotherhood — quickly condemned the incident; some had pointed fingers toward the Muslim Brotherhood for being behind the incident. In a statement, the alliance demanded to “speed up the investigation into the incident and identify the perpetrators,” blaming the “coup’s Interior Ministry” for the attack, because the ministry “is not dedicated to achieving security for Egyptian citizens but is rather busy pursuing demonstrators.” Most political forces and currents condemned the incident.
Activist Imad Khalil, a member of the Maspero Youth Coalition, said that the attack was linked to “the closing in on the terrorists in the Sinai.” He said that the attack was aimed at “sowing discord between Muslims and Copts.”
Former al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya official Najeh Ibrahim blamed the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy for “providing gunmen with legal and political cover.” He expected an increase in anti-Copt attacks in the coming period. He told Al-Hayat, “There are two armed groups working on the ground in Egypt that hold al-Qaeda’s ideology. The first is Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which targets the army and police, uses explosives, operates in the Sinai and which gets its support from [towns in the Suez and Sharqiyya].”
He said that the second group is Al-Furqan Brigades, which consists of “groups of young people who have received high-level training, who operate in Cairo and the Nile Delta and who use methods that harm the government and create worry. … It is possible that [Al-Furqan Brigades] targeted Copts to deliver several messages. One is that the pope’s decision to support the road map has endangered [the Copts’] lives, that [the Copts] will not [feel safe] until the return of the ousted president and that [the Copts’] security is linked to the Islamists’ security.”
Yesterday, the French Foreign Ministry condemned the attack. The ministry’s Assistant Director of Information Alexandre Giorgini said, “In the sensitive historical stage experienced by the entire region, France attaches great importance to the situation of the Christians of the East. … We are very concerned about the multiple acts of violence targeting Copts, especially since August. [Those acts] that led to the destruction of dozens of churches and religious institutions. … Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental right guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”