Thousands turned out Monday for the funeral of four Copts gunned down outside a church, in the first attack on Christians in Cairo since the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president.
Priests carrying large wooden crosses made their way into the packed Church of the Virgin in Cairo’s working class neighbourhood of Al-Warrak, a day after gunmen opened fire on a wedding party there.
Angry mourners chanted for justice and vowed to defend the cross amid chaotic scenes as the coffins were carried in for the service.
Two girls aged eight and 12 were among those killed in Sunday’s attack, officials said.
The four victims belonged to one family, according to relatives. Seventeen others were wounded the attack.
“It is unfair that we were killed in the house of God,” said Eid Fayez, 42.
Witnesses recounted how celebrations quickly turned into horror as the attackers sped towards the wedding party on a motorbike, sprayed the crowd with bullets and fled.
“This isn’t acceptable in any religion,” cried Layla Ezzat, a survivor who like many others returned to the scene of the attack to grieve.
Ayman Moussa told AFP there had been no security at the church since June, despite several attacks against Copts around the country in the wake of president Mohamed Morsi’s July 3 ouster by the army.
The community was left reeling by the attack.
“We as Copts are paying the price of Morsi’s ouster. We are targeted. We no longer feel safe anywhere,” said Iman Girguis, 40.
The interior ministry listed two attackers but some witnesses spoke of three.
“Three masked men on a motorbike approached us. Two opened fire on us and then everything turned to blood and chaos,” said Moawad Wagih, 40, speaking outside the morgue where the bodies were taken.
Ahmed al-Ansari, the head of ambulance services, said four people were killed and 17 were wounded. A morgue official said all those killed were Copts.
Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi condemned the attack, calling it a “despicable criminal act,” and said security forces were searching for the assailants.
“Such terrible acts will not succeed in dividing Muslims and Christians,” he said in a statement.
Copts under attack since Morsi ouster
Egyptian Christians, the majority of whom are Copts, have been targeted since Morsi was swept out of power by the army amid mass protests against his year-long rule, and in particular since an August 14 crackdown by security forces on two Cairo camps of his supporters.
Islamists were enraged by the deadly crackdown and accused Copts of backing the coup that toppled Morsi, who hails from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and was Egypt’s first democratically elected president.
This perception was fuelled by the appearance of Coptic Pope Tawadros II alongside army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he announced on television Morsi’s removal from office.
Muslim leaders and other politicians were also present.
Rights groups say that Copts, who account for six to 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, have come under attack mainly in the provinces of Minya and Assiut in central Egypt.
Earlier this month London-based Amnesty International said that more than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged across the country since the August 14 crackdown.
In its report Amnesty blamed Egyptian security forces for failing to stop “revenge attacks” against the Copts after the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi camps.
The Muslim Brotherhood has deplored Sunday’s attack and blamed it in part on the military-installed authorities.
“The military-backed authorities continue to turn a blind eye to deliberate acts of arson, vandalism and murder,” it said in a statement.
Egypt’s Copts have long complained of discrimination and marginalisation, particularly under Morsi’s one-year rule.
Egypt’s new government is engaged in a widespread crackdown on Islamists, jailing more than 2,000 since the storming of the pro-Morsi camps.
Morsi himself is in custody and is to go on trial November 4 over deadly clashes between his supporters and opponents outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
Most of the Brotherhood’s leaders, including its supreme guide Mohammed Badie, are also in custody.
An Egyptian court last month banned the Brotherhood from operating and seized its assets.