By BosNewsLife Middle East and African Services with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– The deputy to al-Qaida’s group leader Osama bin Laden accused Egypt’s Christian leadership on Friday, February 25, of “inciting interfaith tensions”, despite reports that Egyptian Christians have been killed, injured and kidnapped in several attacks in the predominantly Islamic nation.
Ayman al-Zawahri, the number two leader of the terror network, also denied that al-Qaida was behind last month’s bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed over 20 people and sparked protest.
His message, the second al-Qaida in as many days, came shortly after a Coptic priest was killed in southern Egypt by suspected Islamic extremists, triggering street demonstrations by several thousand Christians. The priest, Daoud Boutros, was found dead in his home with several stab wounds, Christians said.
His death Tuesday, February 22, sparked protests in the city of Assiut with some 3,000 protesters reportedly scuffling with Muslim shop owners and the windows of a police car was smashed, according to witnesses.
The killing came less than a month after news of “a massacre” of two Christian Coptic families by Islamists, said the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), which has close contacts with churches in the region.
It said mass murders took place January 30 in the village of Sharona near Maghagha of Minya province. Two Islamists groups, aided by Muslim neighbors, “descended on the roof of houses owned by Copts, killing eleven Copts, including children, and seriously injuring four others,” AINA said. At least several were reportedly shot. There was no immediate confirmation, but other Christian activists reported earlier several deaths of Christians.
There has been concerns among Christian leaders that Egypt’s current army-led transitional government has done little to prevent these kind of attacks, with reports that some units are participating in anti-Christian violence.
In one of the latest incidents involving troops, a military unit using armored vehicles demolished a newly-built fence surrounding the 5th century St. Bishoy monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, 110 kilometers (68 miles) from the capital Cairo. Video footage seen by BosNewsLife showed soldiers and an armed vehicle trying to push back an angry crowd with what appeared to be shots fired in the background.
Monks said live ammunition was fired, injuring two monks and six Coptic monastery workers. Four people were reportedly detained including three monks and a Coptic lawyer who was at the monastery investigating the army attack “As the soldiers were demolishing the gate and the fence they were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’, or ‘God is Great’, and ‘Victory, Victory’,” AINA quoted priest Hemanot Ava Bishoy as saying.
Earlier in the week the army also attacked the Monastery of St. Makarios of Alexandria in Wady el-Rayan, Fayoum, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Cairo, as they attempted to demolish a fence, Christians said. One monk was reportedly shot and more than ten were injured after being beaten with batons.
The reported monastery attacks prompted thousands of Copts to gather this week in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against what they said were soldiers firing live bullets at monks.
Egypt’s military council, which has been ruling the country since the February 11 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, denied wrongdoing saying soldiers were just removing “some walls that had been illegally built on the road and on land owned by the state.”
The reported violence against the country’s Christian minority and fragile security has also made it difficult for parents of reportedly kidnapped Christian women to find their children.
Last week, an 18-year old Christian, Nesma Sarwat, became the latest known victim of a kidpapping, Christians said.
She was abducted when on February 19, a group of Muslims broke into a house belonging to a building contractor who constructed the St. Mary and St. Michael Church in the city of Giza, near Cairo, AINA reported. The church was the site of recent clashes between State Security forces and Copts protesting the closure of their church, in which several people were killed and injured.
After barging into the family’s house, the intruders allegedly wrote messages on the wall, including “Islam is the solution” and “The Church has to be demolished.” They also wrote the names of the other family members on the wall before abducting the church contractor’s daughter, Christian rights activists said.
Blood was later found on the stairs in the flat and there was fear Friday, February 25, that the rest of the family will be targeted in further violence, church officials said. The motive was not clear, but Christian women have been forced to marry and embrace Islam, Copts said.
The violence comes amid complaints by Christian leaders that they have been excluded from negotiations about forming a new government in Egypt following the recent uprising.
Christians, also known as Copts in Egypt, comprise roughly 10 percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of some 80 million people.
There has been concern that Islamic extremism will increase in the country amid a power vacuum and security concerns, although some analysts suggest the recent uprising was led by secular youth, demanding economic improvement and more freedom in the nation.