(Photo: Morning Star News)
Coptic Christians attending a funeral service Sunday for four Copts killed two days earlier in an anti-Christian rampage were in turn attacked themselves by at least 200 Muslim rioters.
The incident, which started with a few dozen men pelting the mourners with stones, quickly escalated into a massive attack against Christians at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in the Abbassia area of Cairo involving firearms, flash-bang grenades, tear gas, fire bombs and other improvised weapons, besides cars set ablaze.
A Morning Star News reporter observed that police took more than an hour to respond, and when they arrived, they did nothing to stop the attack. Instead, most stood and watched men throw rocks at the Christians gathered at the gates of the cathedral compound or hurl stones over walls at the Christians trapped inside.
Police also did nothing as the attackers scaled the walls of the cathedral compound. Morning Star News witnessed one police officer sitting in a riot-control vehicle who fired a tear-gas grenade into the cathedral compound. Multiple, military-style tear gas grenades, similar to the one the police officer fired, were shot into the compound with regular frequency.
Almost three dozen Coptic Christians suffered injuries in the attack, and one was thought to have been killed; Mahrous Hanna Ibrahim reportedly died from gunshot wounds.
Sunday's funeral was held to remember the loss of four Christians killed Friday in a riot against Christians in Khusus, a poor section on the outskirts of Cairo.
During afternoon prayers, an imam in Khusus called for anyone who had a weapon to, "Kill the Christians and cleanse Al Khusus" of "infidels." A mob formed over a couple of hours, according to numerous residents, and then swept through a Christian part of the neighborhood.
As they screamed "Allahu Akbar [God is greater]," the mob attacked a Baptist church building, and then moved on to a Coptic Orthodox Church. The Baptist church building wasn't significantly damaged, but a preschool nursery run by the Church of St. George was destroyed. The mob also destroyed several Coptic-owned homes and looted several Coptic-owned businesses.
Victor Manqarious, 37, of Khusus, had just gotten off from work when the riot started. He parked his cab and was walking to his home across from the Orthodox church when the mob set on him, said Micheal Anis, Manqarious' uncle.
"He was met by people who punched him in the eye, stabbed him in the neck and shot him in the head," Anis said.
In addition to Manqarious, the identity of four others killed in the riot have been confirmed: Morqos Kamal Mitry, 25, and Essam Qadri Zakhary, 37, were shot in the chest. Marzouq Attiya Nessim, 45, was shot in the head. Mohamed Mahmoud, an 18-year-old Muslim, was found dead.
Relatives of those who were killed in the riot gathered Saturday night (April 6) outside a hospital morgue in downtown Cairo. They said that four other Christians had died in the attack, but their families chose to have them buried without autopsy on Saturday afternoon.
Origins of Attack
There were multiple versions of events leading up to the imam's call on Friday (April 5) for Muslims to kill Christians.
Some villagers said a fight between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim man that led to the Muslim's death was the cause. Others said that someone had painted graffiti on the outside of a mosque that resembled a cross but was actually swastika.
On Sunday afternoon (April 7), thousands gathered in St. Mark's Cathedral for the funeral of the four who were killed. Noting the funeral had become part religious ceremony and part protest against persecution, the Rev. Raphail urged the crowd to remember that, "Blood shed for us makes us more faithful, and [we] insist on our faith."
After the service ended, the four coffins were carried outside to waiting vehicles. People who had attended the service were watching vehicles depart when Muslims began throwing rocks at them from an alleyway lined with buildings five and six stories high that runs perpendicular to the road in front of the cathedral. At first the Copts outside seemed unaware of what was happening, but soon they started throwing stones back and taking cover behind parked cars.
The Coptic Christians seemed to make headway in the fight, but then someone among the Muslims began throwing flash-bang grenades down the alleyway into the crowd, which immediately caused a panic. The Copts ran into the cathedral compound and threw rocks to hold back the Muslims, who by then had poured into the streets.
Once back inside the compound, screaming matches broke out among Copts. One side urged the men involved in the fighting to respond in a Christian manner and not retaliate. The other side saw this argument as foolishness. After a group poured a box full of throwing stones at the feet of one woman, she began screaming for the youths and men to leave the rocks where they were. The response of the group was mixed.
The attack on the funeral and cathedral marks a shocking new low in persecution of Christians in Egypt. The cathedral compound is the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Church, site of the Coptic pope's home and a major, unifying physical symbol of the Christian faith in Egypt for Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians alike.
The attack also shows the boldness with which Christians are now being attacked in Egypt.
"It's so sad, it's very sad," a 47-old-woman at the cathedral said who requested anonymity. "I'm so scared, but God is great; He is able to stop them."