Churchgoers shot at Coptic Christmas midnight Mass in Egypt Agencies From: AP January 07, 2010 1:50PM Increase Text SizeDecrease Text SizePrintEmail Share
Add to DiggAdd to del.icio.usAdd to FacebookAdd to KwoffAdd to MyspaceAdd to NewsvineWhat are these?THREE men in a car sprayed automatic gunfire into a crowd of churchgoers in Egypt as they left a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas, killing at least seven people.
Egypt's Interior Ministry said the attack just before midnight on Wednesday was suspected as retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town. Officials aid witnesses had identified the lead attacker.
The attack happened in the town of Nag Hamadi in Qena province, 64km from the ancient ruins of Luxor.
A local security official confirmed seven were dead and three seriously wounded.
Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hamadi Diocese said six male churchgoers and one security guard were killed. He said he had left St John's church just minutes before the attack.
"A driving car swerved near me, so I took the back door. By the time I shook hands with someone at the gate, I heard the mayhem, lots of machinegun shots," he said by phone.
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The bishop said he was concerned about violence on the eve of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Thursday, because of previous threats following the rape of the 12-year-old girl in November.
He got a message on his mobile phone saying: "It is your turn."
"I did nothing with it. My faithful were also receiving threats in the streets, some shouting at them: 'We will not let you have festivities'," he said.
Because of the threats, he said he ended his Christmas Mass one hour early.
He said Muslim residents of Nag Hamadi and neighbouring villages rioted for five days in November and torched and damaged Christian properties in the area after the rape.
"For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas Day," he said.
The bishop said police have now asked him to stay at home for fear of further violence.
Qena is one of Egypt's poorest and most conservative areas.
Christians, mostly Coptic, account for about 10 per cent of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population.
As Islamic conservatism gains ground, Christians have increasingly complained about discrimination by the Muslim majority.
Clashes between Muslims and Christians are not uncommon in southern Egypt and in recent years have begun seeping into the capital.
An Amnesty International report said sectarian attacks on the Coptic Christian community, comprising between six million and eight million people in Egypt, increased in the year 2008. Sporadic clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims left eight people dead.
Vendetta killing is also common among southern Egyptians and is usually over land or family disputes.
The bishop said he had an idea of who the attackers were, calling them "Muslim radicals."
"It is all religious now. This is a religious war about how they can finish off the Christians in Egypt," he said.