Four people, including an eight-year-old girl, killed in suspected sectarian attack on minority which makes up 10% of population
Gunmen shot dead at least four Egyptians outside a Coptic Christian church on the edge of Cairo on Sunday evening as worshippers left the building after a wedding, state media reported. Two adults and two girls aged eight and 12 were killed, and at least 12 others injured, after the gunmen sprayed bullets seemingly at random.
The perpetrators, and their motives, are unknown as they left the area quickly on motorcycles, according to witnesses. But there are strong concerns that the shootings mark the latest sectarian attack on Egypt‘s Coptic Christian minority, which makes up around 10% of Egypt’s population of 85 million.
Copts were scapegoated by some Islamist hardliners for the July overthrow of ex-president Mohamed Morsi – over 40 churches were attacked following the brutal army-led clearance of two pro-Morsi protest camps in August. State officials have done little to prevent the attacks, or bring their instigators to justice, although Egypt’s prime minister called Sunday’s attack a “callous and criminal act” and pledged to prosecute those responsible.
The Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist group to which Morsi belongs – also strongly condemned the most recent attack in an English-language statement released overnight, while their allies have frequently blamed assaults on Christians on unaffiliated criminals, or even the state itself. But their opponents argue that some Islamists at the very least incited the violence with sectarian speeches made during pro-Morsi protests this summer, and in their Arabic-language websites.
This weekend’s killings constitute the latest outburst of the widespread violence that has characterised Egypt’s summer. Over a thousand Morsi supporters have been killed by security officials since his removal in July, while dozens of soldiers and policemen have been killed in a series of revenge attacks by Islamist extremists, largely in the northern Sinai peninsula. Earlier on Sunday the campus of al-Azhar, Egypt’s oldest university, was the site of skirmishes between pro-Morsi students and riot police.
Egypt is currently polarised between a sizable minority of Islamists furious at Morsi’s overthrow and the crackdown on his supporters – and a larger group of Egyptians who have given wholesale backing to the army that ousted him. A small minority refuse the authoritarianism of both groups; they are glad to see Morsi leave but fearful that the army-backed government heralds the return of counter-revolutionary, Mubarak-era governance.
The latter group is currently alarmed about new legislation that may severely stifle street protest, after Egypt’s interim cabinet drafted a new law that would significantly curtail demonstrators’ rights to free assembly.
“Why are these people deciding what’s best for us?” asked Mohamed Hashem, a publisher and leading light of Egypt’s revolutionaries who has threatened to leave the country in despair at recent events. “Did all the martyrs sacrifice their souls for nothing?”
But other Egyptians may not be so upset, with many yearning for a return to stability following nearly three years of turmoil, and hoping for an end to the almost daily pro-Morsi protests.
Ambulances drive through the crowd in front of a Coptic Christian church in Cairo after gunmen on a motorbike fired into a group gathered for a wedding. (AFP/Getty Images / October 20, 2013)
Members of the church pray at the spot where their fellow Christians died outside the Coptic Christian Church after an attack by Muslims
An Egyptian youth takes in the scene beneath him at a Coptic Christian church in the Waraa neighborhood of Cairo late Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 after gunmen on motorcycles opened fire, killing a woman and wounding several people. Egypt has been on edge since a July 3 military coup ousted the country’s Islamist president. Since the coup, Coptic Christians have been killed and their churches attacked by angry mobs. (AP Photo/Mohsen Nabil)
Egyptian security forces stand guard at a Coptic Christian church in the Waraa neighborhood of Cairo late Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 after gunmen on motorcycles opened fire, killing a woman and wounding several people. Egypt has been on edge since a July 3 military coup ousted the country’s Islamist president. Since the coup, Coptic Christians have been killed and their churches attacked by angry mobs. (AP Photo/Mohsen Nabil)
Attacks on churches leave Egypt’s Coptic Christians feeling more persecuted, vulnerable
Video and more from the BBC:
Investigation Begins After Coptic Church Murders
By Basil El-Dabh
Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat opened an investigation of the church shooting that left four dead and 17 injured at the Virgin Mary Church in the Giza neighbourhood of Al-Warraq.
Unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a wedding at the Coptic Orthodox church on Sunday. Among the fatalities were 8-year-old Mariam Ashraf and 12-year-old Mariam Nabil.
A statement from the Ministry of Interior said that two masked men riding a motorcycle stopped in front of the church and opened fire on attendees of a wedding.
The interior ministry told Daily News Egypt on Monday that police were still working to find the unidentified assailants.
The injured were transferred to Sahel Hospital and the Nasser Institute, according to state-owned MENA.
The funerals of the deceased were scheduled to take place on Monday afternoon at the same church where the attack occurred.
The Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement on Monday denouncing the attack “targeting innocent Egyptian citizens with the right to live in peace and security.” The Church added that the country was going through a period in which national cohesion was being restored.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqy Allam strongly denounced the attack in a statement saying that such attacks on Christians and churches were forbidden in Sharia and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. He called on Christians and Muslims to unite against sedition and that “every drop of blood spilled represents a great loss to the nation,” and offered condolences to the families of the victims. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb also condemned the attack, saying that it was contrary to religion and morality, and paid condolences to the families of the victims.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi described the shooting as a “cowardly criminal act”, and called on urgent medical care for the injured, adding that security forces were working to uncover the details of the incident.
The Salafi Al-Nour Party condemned the attack, affirming the “sanctity of bloodshed, whether Muslim or Coptic.” Spokesman for the party Sherif Taha said that such incidents could lead to strife, and called on the interim government to quickly investigate the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya and its Building and Development Party denied a role in the attack, according to state-owned Al-Ahram, and condemned the assault on the wedding “whatever the motives.”
The Anti-Coup Alliance also condemned the attack, advocating the sanctity of all places of worship and private and public property. The group, which has called for the return of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, held the Ministry of Interior responsible for its “lack of dedication to achieve security of Egyptian citizens” and called for swift investigations.
Hussein Ibrahim, secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement that his party rejected attacks on any establishment or taking up arms against other Egyptians.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s press office in London accused the “military backed authorities” of turning a blind eye to “deliberate acts of arson, vandalism, and murder.”
The Free Egyptians Party (FEP) said that the “militias of the fascist and racist Brotherhood” were seeking to burn the country and “promote an environment of chaos, discord, and loss of innocent lives.” The FEP also called on the interim government to “stop courting and appeasing [the Muslim Brotherhood]“, which it accused of aiming to paralyse life in Egypt.
Al-Tayyar Al-Shaaby also condemned the killings “in the strongest terms” saying that attacks would not “succeed in tearing the unified national fabric” and driving a wedge between Egyptians.
Al-Dostour Party also offered its condolences, calling on Egypt’s deliverance from terrorism.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) called for quick investigations into the attack and the disclosure of the identities of the perpetrators. EOHR head Hafez Abu Seada considered the attack “an assault on freedom of belief and worship according to all norms and laws.”
Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil El-Araby extended condolences to the families of the victims, saying such a tragedy would work to create a more cohesive Egyptian society.
France’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs called the attack a “heinous crime” in a press release, expressing “deep concern” regarding violence targeting Copts that “led to the destruction of dozens of churches and Christian institutions.”
“Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental right guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said the French ministry. “As the entire region goes through this delicate historical phase, France is closely monitoring the situation of Eastern Christians.”
Coptic rights group the Maspero Youth Union called for a noon Tuesday protest at the cabinet building in downtown Cairo, demanding the trials of Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and local security officials for failure to carry out duties and stop the current wave of sectarian violence. The group also called for the speedy arrest and prosecution of offenders, the development of a plan to protect churches, compensation for the families of those who had died and the injured, and the “cleansing” of the interior ministry of all Muslim Brotherhood members.
The group also held the government of interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi responsible for its failure to protect Christian citizens from repeated attacks that have occurred since the dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Square. They also highlighted that Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim was also head of the ministry when violence erupted at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in April.
While sectarian violence against Egypt’s Christians dramatically intensified in August following the dispersals of pro-Morsi sit-ins, most attacks occurred in rural areas and Upper Egyptian towns. The shooting on Sunday night was the first major attack on a church in Cairo since Morsi’s ouster.
Civil society and human rights groups had condemned sectarian rhetoric used by some Islamist groups in recent months and criticised the security apparatus for failing to protect Christian places of worship and being ineffective and slow to find and prosecute perpetrators of such actions.
A report by Amnesty International entitled “How Long Are We Going To Live In Injustice?” issued earlier this month detailed the failure of the police and military to keep angry mobs from destroying churches, monasteries and the property of Christians.
The Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies (ECPPS) filed a report saying that August was the worst month of sectarian violence in modern Egyptian history.