< Dozens of churches, Bible Society attacked
< Over 500 dead, some 3,000 injured
< Christians appealing for prayers
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Minority Christians woke up in an Egypt on the verge of civil war with as many as 27 churches being attacked and at least two Coptic Christians killed among the at least 525 people who lost their lives in an army crackdown on protests and related clashes.
The Bible Society headquarters in the capital Cairo, Egypt’s main Bible publisher, was attacked in the violence that also inured nearly 3,000 people nationwide, Christians and officials said.
Clashes began Wednesday, August 15, when Egyptian security forces cleared out thousands of people at two sit-ins in Cairo demanding the return of ousted president Mohammed Morsi. Dozens of people were believed to have been killed in the operation at the Nahda Square and the Rabaa al-Adawiya sites, where protesters set up camps following Morsi’s ouster on July 3.
Interim President Adly Mansour declared a nation-wide state of emergency while Vice-President Mohammed El Baradei announced his resignation saying he “cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood.”
Christians, seen as supporting the ouster of Morsi, were soon targets of furious Morsi supporters following the initial crackdown by the military and police , rights investigators and Christian leaders confirmed. Dozens of churches, schools, monasteries, stores, and homes were ransacked and destroyed, according to witnesses, activists and local Christians.
EGYPT ON FIRE
“From the far north of Egypt to the far south, from the far east to the far west, all across the country Coptic Christians have come under attack today,” explained Ashraf Ramelah, president of the advocacy group Voice of the Copts.
His observations were shared by rights group International Christian Concern (ICC). “The loss of life in Egypt today is terrible,” said Todd Daniels, ICC’s regional manager for the Middle East in a statement to BosNewsLife.
The two Christians who were killed were identified as Iskander Rizk Allah from Delga in Minya Governorate, in his 60s, and Rami Zakria of Alexandria, though more details about him were not immediately available.
The circumstances of Rizk Allah’s murder also remained unclear, but rights workers said Zakria was shot.
In another incident a pastor and his wife were reportedly kidnapped from their Seventh-day Adventist church in Assuit, though there was no immediate independent confirmation.
Yet, “The specific targeting of the Christian community has led to staggering losses. Security forces must commit to ensure the protection of the lives and properties of all Egyptians, especially its Christian community,” Daniels added.
CHRISTIAN SHOPS ATTACKED
Earlier in the day well-informed rights investigators already noticed massive damage to churches. “We regret to report that at least six church buildings have been attacked so far, three in Minya, one in Sohag and two in Fayoum,” areas aconfirmed Middle East Concern (MEC) advocacy group in a statement to BosNewsLife when the violence had just begun.
“In addition, the Al Raai Al Saleh Convent in Suez has been set on fire and Christian-owned businesses in Sohag and Assuit have been targeted,” MEC added.
Priest Ibram Tamesy, of the Church of Saint Mary and Anba Ibram in the village of Delga in the Minya province, said in published remarks that a mob broke into the church and looted the contents, including the food collected for the poor. Then they looted and burned the home of another priest serving at the church while attacking homes of 17 other Christians in the village, he added in a statement distributed by ICC.
“The loudspeaker systems from the mosques were being used to tell the Muslims to gather at Ebad El Rahman and defend Islam because many Muslims had been killed at the Rabba and El Nahda sit-in,” Tamesy added.
A mob reportedly set fire to the Monastery of St. Mary and its three churches. The Mar Mina church and a Baptist church, also in the Minya province, were burned in attacks by pro-Morsi supporters, activists and local Christians said.
CHURCHES SEEN BURNING
In the Sohag region, the churches of Mar Girgis, St. Mark, and St. Mary were set on fire by attackers. Emad Faheem, a Christian in Sohag, was quoted as saying that “Some Christian stores in Sohag City close to Mar Gigris Church were ransacked and destroyed by Muslims. Some cars owned by Christians were smashed also. The situation is so bad here.”
ICC told BosNewsLife that it had also learned that in the city of Assiut, in Upper Egypt, the Catholic church of Saint Therese, the Archangel Michael’s church, and the Mar Girgis church were all attacked and set on fire.
Ayman Ibrahim Abdel Malak, a Christian from Assiut, reportedly said that “Muslims broke also into the Bible Society” office there and attacked “many other Christian shops” in the city.
Elsewhere, the Good Shepherd Church, monastery, and Christian school were all set ablaze in Suez City. In Alexandria, the churches of Saint Maximus and Mar Girgis were burned, according to witnesses.
A crowd of Morsi supporters “burned the car of [priest] Mosa and another car owned by a servant in the Church, and, after that, they broke into the church and burned it and they were chanting ‘Allah Akbar’ (Allah is Great),” AllahWissa Fawzy, a Christian in Alexandria, was quoted as saying.
CHRISTIANS URGE PRAYERS
Local church leaders have warned that Copts, as most Christians are known in Egypt, will pay a high price for freedom.
Amid the bloodshed, Egyptian Christians appealed for prayers that “Those affected by violent incidents will know the healing touch of Jesus, physically and psychologically” and that “There will be effective protection of church and other property against attacks by extremists.”
Copts comprise some 10 percent of Egypt’s mainly Muslim population. Church leaders have complained about growing harassment by Islamic hardliners, including from followers of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party.
The Nazis-hunting famed Simon Wiesenthal Center told BosNewsLife earlier it shares the concerns about attacks against Christians as well as Jews by Brotherhood party activists. It called the party “the most dangerous, anti-Semitic organization anywhere in the world today.”
United States Secretary of State John Kerry called the bloody government crackdown on protesters in Egypt “deplorable,” and Turkey urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to act quickly to stop a “massacre.”
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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