By Mary Abdelmassih
(AINA) -- Christians Copts in the area of Embaba were attacked Saturday evening by Muslim Salafis. The attacks lasted for 14 hours. The Muslims fired guns and rifles and hurled Molotov cocktails at Coptic churches, houses and businesses. 12 Copts were killed and 232 injured.
The church of Saint Mina church was the first to be attacked. According to its pastor Fr. Abanoub the attack started at 5.30 PM on Saturday May 7, when church parishioners noticed a large number of Salafis, estimated at 3000 men, congregating near the church. Anticipating trouble, the army was called. The Salafis went to the church and asked to search it because they believed a Christian girl named called Abir, who had converted to Islam, married a Salafi and wanted to revert back to Christianity, was hiding inside the church. The Muslims circulated a rumor that the husband of Abir received a call from her asking him to save her as she was being "tortured" inside the church.
The governor of Giza said that there are no girls hiding in St. Mina Church. He falsely claimed that things were under control and a "reconciliation" meeting will be arranged for tomorrow. The army later cordoned off the entire district of Embaba.
Father Yohanna Mansour from Giza Bishopric confirmed that no one knows this alleged girl called Abir. He said the congregation was meeting at church and the Salafis wanted to break into the church and force a search to look for this alleged convert, he said in an interview with the Egyptian State TV. "Muslims always come invited to church, but this would have set a precedent that Muslims would use to search our churches." He refused the "reconciliation" meeting and insisted on the application of the law.
According to Fr. Abanoub the Salafis started shooting at 5:30 but the army arrived at 10 PM. "I called everyone, but no one bothered to come." He said six policemen came and left when they saw the shooting. There were also snipers shooting the parishioners from rooftops. "I mourn all those young people who died. We now must ask for international protection."
The second church attacked by Salafis was St. Mary and St Abanob, also in Embaba. Muslims prevented the fire brigade from reaching it. Copts were also shot. This video shows the wounded brought inside the church.
The third church attacked was St. Mary Church in Wehda Street in Embaba, the ground floor of which was completely torched (video).
An apartment complex inhabited by Copts, near St. Mina Church, was set on fire after being looted. Another two houses were torched (video).
Youssef Edward, a deacon at St. Mina Church, said the army and security forces stood watching while Muslims threw Molotov cocktail at homes. He said the Muslims who attacked the church came from outside, as Muslims from the area live peacefully with them. "The army was not able to control the situation, and the mob was chanting 'Islamic', 'Islamic'" (video showing wounded Copts and a dead Copt named Medhat in St. Mina).
As soon as Copts heard of the Salafi attacks, they rushed to protect their churches. There were contradictory reports of Copts using guns to defend themselves.
Witnesses reported the Salafis were wearing Taliban style clothes. "I believe they are of the 3000 Jihadis who returned lately from Afghanistan," Saber Loutfi, one of the Embaba residents told Coptic Free Voice.
Renowned Muslim liberal writer Nabil Sharaf el Din said on the Coptic Hope Sat Channel "The army is either incapable or is an accomplice to the Salafis." He believes that what took place today exceeds anything else that had previously happened to the Copts. "If the army does not takes a stern position with the Salafis they will look real bad." He said that all moderate Muslims and Copts should stick together to overcome the Salafis. In his opinion the Salafis, who were encouraged and nurtured by the old State Security, are like the genie who has come out of the lamp and now cannot be restrained or controlled.
The Bishop of Giza, Anba Theodosius, said "These things are planned. We have no law or security, we are in a jungle. We are in a state of chaos. One rumor burns the whole area. Everyday we have a catastrophe." Addressing the Salafis he said "We will never leave our country".
Most witnesses interviewed asked for international protection of the Copts, as the army does nothing when it comes to attacks on Copts. Others accused the army of complicity.
Camelia Shehata, who the Muslims claim had converted to Islam and was held by the church against her will, appeared today on Hayat Christian TV and said Muslim claims are groundless and that she is 100% Christian. She denied that she had met any of the Salafi sheikhs who claimed they went with her to Al-Azhar to convert to Islam.
A large number of Copts are presently staging a sit-in in front of the US Embassy in Cairo, asking for International Protection for the Copts.
Coptic groups have called for a "million-man" protest in Cairo and Alexandria on Sunday to protest the Embaba attacks. The march will start at the High Court and end in Maspero, in front of the State TV Building.
The funeral of the Coptic victims will take place on Sunday at St. George's Church in Giza.