Christian worshipers in Cairo, Egypt, were left injured after a man wielding a "sharp tool" and a Quran attacked them during a prayer service as he shouted "Allah is great."
International Christian Concern reports that on Nov. 11, a 22-year-old man entered the Church of St. George through a room intended for baking bread for the Lord's Supper during a prayer service. The intruder hit the baker on the head with an iron rod while shouting, "Allah is great." When another Christian attempted to rescue the baker, he was also injured.
Police arrived at the scene and arrested the man, claiming he carried out the violent attack because of mental health problems and drug use. However, local believers dispute such an explanation, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to hide the Islamic extremism prevalent across Egypt.
"The media uses words which don't reveal the truth," one local believer told ICC. "Now we have discovered that that this was a young man, not an old one. Also, he was holding a Quran and sharp tool [while] injuring some people on their heads. The media's role is to reveal the reality and not to hide information to make the Coptic Christians] calm down."
Another local Christian, Majeed, added, "It's too awful. I can't imagine that we should adapt to these incidents. Lies and lies and lies. ... I'm sure that this criminal will not be punished."
"Mentally ill, what?! How the media manipulates us!" exclaimed Hani, another local Christian.
Claire Evans, ICC's regional manager, praised police for "responding quickly" to the incident at St. George's Church, but urged the international community not to "forget the context of the attack."
"It is not unusual for the Egyptian authorities to claim that something other than Islamic extremism drives the less publicized incidents of persecution," she said. "The situation surrounding Egypt's Christians will not improve unless there is honesty in confronting why these kinds of incidents happen. We must continue to keep Egypt's Christians in our prayers."
Egyptian authorities have faced increasing criticism for failing to address Islamic extremism in the country and protect Christians from escalating violence. The country is ranked 17th on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian.
Earlier in November, Islamic extremists murdered seven and injured at least 20 others after they left worship at a monastery in Egypt. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, saying on its Amaq news service that the attack had been in retaliation for the arrest of "our chaste sisters."
Amid widespread outrage, the Interior Ministry said Egyptian forces had killed the 19 militants responsible for the massacre.
However, a similar attack occurred on a bus near the same monastery last year, leaving 29 Christians dead, prompting many to question the effectiveness of the Egyptian government's strategy in combating Islamic extremism.
"The reality is that the Islamic State has successfully executed an attack on the same road, next to the same monastery, one year apart," Timothy E. Kaldas, an analyst with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told The New York Times. "That really calls into question the quality of government efforts to enhance security, particularly in Minya, where the Christian minority has been targeted relentlessly."
In Rome, Pope Francis denounced the violence. "I pray for the victims, pilgrims killed just because they were Christian," he told worshipers at St. Peter's Square on Sunday.