Feuding Christians in Shootout; Land Dispute Results In 5 Dead, 9 Injured in Egypt

A feud over land in a city south of Cairo, Egypt between two Coptic families has resulted in five deaths and nine injuries after gunfire broke out Wednesday, local authorities are reporting.

The conflict took place Wednesday in the city of Malawi in the province of Minya, south of Cairo, when two quarreling families reportedly opened gunfire on each other over a dispute regarding land. A local police official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that three of the nine who were injured in the feud are in critical condition. Land disputes in the North African country's rural areas have long been an issue, but they have escalated since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent instability of the government and security forces.

Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 90 million population, the majority being Muslim. Recent attacks on Copts in the country by factions of Islamic extremists have resulted in community leaders calling on the government to take a proactive role in protecting religious minorities.

Just this past Sunday, four family members were killed while attending a wedding reception in front of the Church of the Virgin Mary in Cairo's Waraa neighborhood. Masked gunman fired on the crowd of Copts as a car blocked traffic, making an easy get-away for the attackers. Of the four victims killed, two were young girls, ages 8 and 12.

Following Sunday's attack, the Coptic community released a statement calling for the government to offer better protection to their people. Witnesses at the church massacre argue that police didn't arrive at the scene of the shooting until an hour after it occurred, and ambulances arrived even later to take the victims to the hospital.

"Churches were torched, Christians kidnapped and now gunned down, and there is no security guarding the churches. I believe there is collaboration," Ishaq Ibrahim of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Ibrahim added that he believes Sunday's attack on a place of worship also shows "a change and possible expansion of the attacks targeting Christians in Egypt, and it could leave more victims."

Additionally, Ameer Shafiq, an 18-year-old computer science student who helped take the victims of the shooting to the hospital, said he believes the deaths that occurred Sunday are a result of criminal negligence. He explained that he and others spent a long time trying to flag down taxis and buses as they waited for the ambulance and police as they were taking so long. One of the young girls shot "still had a pulse when I carried her to hospital," Shafiq said. "She could have lived."