Egypt Puts 48 on Trial for Church Burning Incident

Egypt’s public prosecutor has referred 48 people for trial at the criminal court for being involved in the deadly sectarian violence that led to the burning of a church in the Cairo district of Imbaba last month.

The accused have been referred to Cairo’s Supreme State Security Court Saturday, for “premeditated murder, harming public security, inciting sectarian tension, burning a church and possessing weapons with the purpose of carrying out terror (acts).”

The deadly incident occurred on May 7, when clashes occurred between Christians and Muslims in Imbaba, a working-class district of Cairo. The fighting saw 12 people killed and dozens more injured, as well as a church set on fire.

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The clashes were allegedly sparked by rumors among the Islamic community that Christians had abducted a woman, Abeer Fakhry, whom they claim had converted to Islam.

The prosecutor's office spokesman, Adel Said, explained that prior to the clashes, a group of Muslims had gathered outside a mosque in Imbaba to incite others to search buildings near a church to find the woman.

However, Christians in the neighborhood, seeing that the Muslim group was approaching the church, feared an attack was about to take place. It is alleged that some formed groups to try and protect the church. In the ensuing clash firearms were reportedly used on both sides.

The prosecutor added that a further rumor soon surfaced that a Muslim cleric had been killed, and this provoked the Muslims to set fire to and destroy the church.

The interfaith tensions have proven a great challenge for Egypt's new military rulers, who have attempted at all costs to avoid overly-aggressive security tactics against Islamists often implemented by ex-President Hosni Mubarak.

The prosecutor has explained that of the 48 referred to the criminal courts, 22 are being held in preventative detention, while a search continues for the remaining 26.

Coptic Christians account for approximately 10 percent of Egypt's population. No date has yet been scheduled for the first hearing.

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