Egypt's Christians stunned after church shooting

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 21 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

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.

Mohsen Nabil, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's Christians were stunned Monday by a drive-by shooting in which masked gunmen sprayed a wedding party outside a Cairo church with automatic weapons fire, killing four people, including two young girls, in an attack that raised fears of a nascent insurgency by extremists after the military's ouster of the president and a crackdown on Islamists.

Several thousand Christians gathered Monday for the funeral of the four members of a single family gunned down the previous evening, as the government and religious leaders condemned the attack.

Egypt has seen an increase in attacks by Islamic radicals since the military removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and launched a heavy crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. The targets have mainly been security forces and Christians, whom Islamists blame because of their strong support of Morsi's ouster. In Sinai, suspected jihadi fighters have stepped up attacks on soldiers and police. In rural provinces of the south, there has been a wave of mob attacks led by extremists against churches, which have been burned and looted.

But the bloodshed in Cairo's Warraq district was the first such violence in the capital, a direct shooting against Christians.

"With our blood and souls, we will redeem the cross," a crowd of mourners chanted as the bodies were brought for the funeral Monday at Warraq's Virgin Mary Church, where the attack took place. One male relative fell onto one of the coffins, weeping. In the church, they sang hymns, "Help us, Jesus. Forgive us. Bless us. Our eyes are filled with tears."

Fahmy Azer Aboud, 75, sat stunned in the church, staring in shock at the floor. Sunday evening, his family had been waiting outside the church for the wedding of one his granddaughters to begin when gunmen on motorcycles drove by and opened fire for five minutes, then drove away.

Two others of his granddaughters, an 8- and a 13-year-old were killed, as well as his son Samir and Aboud's sister-in-law. Seven of his relatives were among the 17 wounded in the attack. Several Muslims were also among the wounded, according to Church leaders.

"It's God's will. They are always beating us down. Every other day now, they do this," Abboud said. He added that ambulance did not arrive for an hour and half while police did not arrive till later.

The military-backed interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, pledged the Sunday night attack would "not succeed in sowing divisions between the nation's Muslims and Christians."

The top cleric at Al-Azhar, the world's primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning, called the shooting "a criminal act that runs contrary to religion and morals."

In a brief statement, an umbrella group of Islamist parties, including Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which have led a campaign of protests against the July 3 coup, also condemned the attack.

"Places of worship are sacred," the National Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy and Rejecting the Coup said in its statement. Morsi's allies while in office included radical groups with a violent past and hard-line clerics who often engaged in anti-Christian rhetoric.

Christians, mostly from the Coptic Orthodox Church, make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 90 million. They have long complained of discrimination by the country's Muslim majority. Now they also have been increasingly targeted in a militant backlash after Morsi's ouster. Islamists have blamed Christians for playing a significant role in the mass street protests by millions that led to Morsi's removal. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, publicly supported the coup.

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