By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– At least four Christians and one Muslim, all men, were killed and a church damaged in sectarian clashes just outside Egypt’s capital, security sources confirmed Saturday, April 6.
Officials said the overnight violence in the town of Khusus, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of Cairo, was triggered by young Muslims who drew upside down crosses on an Islamic institute.
Christian onlookers began quarreling with the Muslims and soon residents wielding guns began firing on one another, police said.
However some residents said the violence was sparked by feuding families while others told reporters that the fight began after a woman was verbally harassed in the street.
The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
LOCAL CHURCH ATTACKED
State news agency MENA reported that unidentified assailants had attacked the local church during the clashes and set parts of it on fire. Police reportedly stepped up security at the damaged church after Muslim youths began gathering in the area.
Broken glass from smashed shop windows littered the street, where the hulks of several burnt out cars stood, news reporters said.
A tense calm returned to the town later Saturday, April 6, with more than a dozen police cars reportedly patrolling the streets.
Police said they detained 15 people following the clashes.
However Christians complained that security forced arrived long after the violence began and did nothing to intervene.
POLICE TEAR GAS
“Police fired tear gas and we all left,” The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted 36 year-old Atef Atta, a Christian resident, as saying.
“Christians are always victims and the government doesn’t do anything.”
The latest violence underscored wider concerns among Christians, who make up some 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million.
Christians say there have been a growing number of often deadly attacks in Muslim-majority Egypt since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 gave more freedom to hardline Islamists who were repressed under his rule.
Critics point out however that Christian-Muslim tensions also flared under the former regime of Mubarak, and say a bomb killed Coptic worshipers just weeks before the 2011 uprising against his rule broke out.
Egyptian Christian leaders counter that that a lack of security and political tension, along with anti-Christian statements by some ultraconservative Islamic clerics might give extremists a freer hand to attack churches and Coptic property, especially in the country’s poorer areas.
President Mohamed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader elected in June, has come under international pressure to improve rights of religious minorities, including Christians.
His office released a statement Saturday, April 6, condemning the latest violence and “any actions aimed at disrupting unity and cohesion of Egyptian society.”
The president’s Muslim Brotherhood group also said it was angry about the sectarian violence.
“Security authorities should take all measures to resolve the problem and religious figures should intervene to end the tension,” Freedom and Justice Party Chairman Saad el-Katatni said in a statement to media.
Though the president reportedly promised to protect the rights of the mainly Coptic Christians in the country, attacks continue prompting thousands of Christians to flee Egypt, rights groups say.
Help BosNewsLife to be the voice of the voiceless. Click here for a subscription.