‘Horrible’: Christian churches throughout Egypt stormed, torched


Please, remember to pray for Egypt for Christ to be exalted in the midst of the storm especially the Church of God surrounded by persecution and rampant attacks. Thank you!

Kafr Hakim, Egypt (CNN) — For 67 years, the Virgin Mary Church has been a peaceful refuge for Shenouda El Sayeh, much like the Giza province village of Hafr Hakim where it rests and where he has lived all those years.

But, as he swept its floors on Thursday, it was painfully obvious things had changed.

The night before, a mob — chanting against Coptic Christians such as El Sayeh and calling for Egypt to become an “Islamic state” — had torched and looted the Virgin Mary Church.

“I didn’t expect this to happen,” El Sayeh said.

People reach for a coffin on Thursday, August 15, during a funeral for policemen killed during a crackdown at two protest camps in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsy yesterday in Cairo, Egypt. Ferocious clashes on Wednesday, August 14, reportedly left more 500 people dead across Egypt, and authorities have declared a monthlong state of emergency. The recent string of violence began when Egyptian security forces stormed two makeshift camps to clear out Morsy supporters. Look back at Egypt after the coup.People reach for a coffin on Thursday, August 15, during a funeral for policemen killed during a crackdown at two protest camps in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsy yesterday in Cairo, Egypt. Ferocious clashes on Wednesday, August 14, reportedly left more 500 people dead across Egypt, and authorities have declared a monthlong state of emergency. The recent string of violence began when Egyptian security forces stormed two makeshift camps to clear out Morsy supporters. Look back at Egypt after the coup.
Egyptian policemen attend the funeral for their colleagues on August 15. Egyptian policemen attend the funeral for their colleagues on August 15.
Men are detained near a burned section of Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 15. Men are detained near a burned section of Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 15.
People search through debris at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on August 15. People search through debris at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on August 15.
A man on August 15 checks out a list of names of those killed in the crackdown. A man on August 15 checks out a list of names of those killed in the crackdown.
Egyptians mourn over a body wrapped in shrouds at a Cairo mosque August 15. Egyptians mourn over a body wrapped in shrouds at a Cairo mosque August 15.
Morsy supporters carry a coffin into a mosque in Cairo's Nasr City on August 15. Morsy supporters carry a coffin into a mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City on August 15.
A woman weeps after identifying the body of a relative on August 15 at a Cairo mosque. A woman weeps after identifying the body of a relative on August 15 at a Cairo mosque.
A man walks inside the burned-out Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 15. A man walks inside the burned-out Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 15.
Motorcyclists pass by debris, including Morsy posters, in Cairo's Nahda Square on August 15. Motorcyclists pass by debris, including Morsy posters, in Cairo’s Nahda Square on August 15.
Supporters of Morsy shout during clashes with Egyptian police at the Rabaah Al-Adawiya protest camp in Cairo's Nasr City district on August 14. Supporters of Morsy shout during clashes with Egyptian police at the Rabaah Al-Adawiya protest camp in Cairo’s Nasr City district on August 14.
A woman tries to stop a military bulldozer from hurting a wounded youth during clashes on August 14 in eastern Cairo. A woman tries to stop a military bulldozer from hurting a wounded youth during clashes on August 14 in eastern Cairo.
Morsy supporters run as Egyptian security forces fire toward them on August 14. Morsy supporters run as Egyptian security forces fire toward them on August 14.
An injured youth is seen at a makeshift hospital in Cairo on August 14. An injured youth is seen at a makeshift hospital in Cairo on August 14.
Supporters of Morsy take cover from Egyptian security forces during clashes on August 14. Supporters of Morsy take cover from Egyptian security forces during clashes on August 14.
A Morsy supporter reacts after identifying the body of a dead family member at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre on August 14 in Cairo. A Morsy supporter reacts after identifying the body of a dead family member at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre on August 14 in Cairo.
The national identity cards of protesters allegedly killed during a clear-out operation by Egyptian security forces on pro-Morsy demonstrators are exchanged at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre on August 14. The national identity cards of protesters allegedly killed during a clear-out operation by Egyptian security forces on pro-Morsy demonstrators are exchanged at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre on August 14.
A Morsy supporter lies wounded on a stretcher at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre on August 14. A Morsy supporter lies wounded on a stretcher at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre on August 14.
Plumes of smoke rise from the site of a protest in support of deposed President Morsy in Cairo on August 14. Plumes of smoke rise from the site of a protest in support of deposed President Morsy in Cairo on August 14.
Army bulldozers remove a barricade erected by supporters of Morsy during clashes with riot police at Cairo's Mustafa Mahmoud Square on August 14. Army bulldozers remove a barricade erected by supporters of Morsy during clashes with riot police at Cairo’s Mustafa Mahmoud Square on August 14.
Supporters of Morsy push a police vehicle off the 6th of October Bridge in Cairo on August 14. Supporters of Morsy push a police vehicle off the 6th of October Bridge in Cairo on August 14.
A member of the Egyptian security forces lies on the ground in Cairo on August 14 after a police vehicle was pushed off the 6th of October Bridge. A member of the Egyptian security forces lies on the ground in Cairo on August 14 after a police vehicle was pushed off the 6th of October Bridge.
A man grieves at a makeshift morgue in Cairo on August 14. A man grieves at a makeshift morgue in Cairo on August 14.
Morsy supporters confront police at Cairo's Mustafa Mahmoud Square on August 14. Morsy supporters confront police at Cairo’s Mustafa Mahmoud Square on August 14.
Morsy supporters carry a wounded man during clashes with riot police in Cairo on August 14. Morsy supporters carry a wounded man during clashes with riot police in Cairo on August 14.
A Morsy supporter during clashes with police in Cairo on August 14. A Morsy supporter during clashes with police in Cairo on August 14.
Riot police stand behind a wounded man near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 14. Riot police stand behind a wounded man near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 14.
Supporters of Morsy and members of the Muslim Brotherhood run from tear gas as security forces move in at the site of a pro-Morsy sit-in in Cairo on August 14. Supporters of Morsy and members of the Muslim Brotherhood run from tear gas as security forces move in at the site of a pro-Morsy sit-in in Cairo on August 14.
A Morsy supporter sits under arrest at Cairo's Nahda Square on August 14. A Morsy supporter sits under arrest at Cairo’s Nahda Square on August 14.
Egyptians help a woman suffering from tear gas exposure in a street leading to Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 14. Egyptians help a woman suffering from tear gas exposure in a street leading to Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 14.
Egyptian security forces detain protesters in Cairo's Nasr City district on August 14. Egyptian security forces detain protesters in Cairo’s Nasr City district on August 14.
The scene from a street in Cairo's Nasr City appears chaotic as security forces clear a sit-in August 14. The scene from a street in Cairo’s Nasr City appears chaotic as security forces clear a sit-in August 14.
A woman tries to protect herself from tear gas in Cairo on August 14. A woman tries to protect herself from tear gas in Cairo on August 14.
 Muslim Brotherhood supporters run from tear gas in a street leading to Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 14.
 Protesters gather in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on Monday, August 12.
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Christians targeted in Egypt

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Emam mosque becomes temporary morgue

He’s not alone. Christians all around Egypt are cleaning up in the aftermath of a spate of attacks, which not coincidentally came on the county’s deadliest day since the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said he was told by colleagues in Egypt that 52 churches were attacked in a 24-hour span that started Wednesday, as well as numerous Christians’ homes and businesses.

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told CNN he had confirmed attacks on at least 30 churches so far, in addition to the targeting of church-related facilities, including schools and cultural centers.

Those churches reportedly set ablaze Wednesday included St. George Church in Sohag, a city south of Cairo on the Nile River.

And the new day brought new attacks. Prince Tadros Church in Fayoum, which is southwest of Cairo, was stormed and burned Thursday night, according to the official Middle East News Agency.

This and other attacks have been blamed by some on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group once led by more recently deposed President Mohamed Morsy. They, too, have reportedly been caught up in the violence: Egypt’s health ministry says that at least 580 people were killed and more than 4,000 injured amidst clashes involving security forces and Morsy supporters.

What group, if any, is behind the church attacks, and how coordinated this violence has been might not been be sorted out definitely for some time.

Until then, Christians in Egypt are left to try to put things back together, as well as to try to make sense of what’s transpired.

As Dalia Ziada of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies told CNN: “This is horrible to happen in only one day.”

‘A very dangerous game to play’

Egypt will have much to deal with if, and when, things do settle down. Should that happen, Angaelos says that a proper investigation of the church attacks should be part of that — especially since, he feels, the sheer scale of incidents suggests they were orchestrated, rather than a byproduct of chaotic unrest.

“We would want the people who have done it to be brought to justice because I think they are trying to do something which is much more dangerous,” he said.

“It’s not just about burning churches, it’s about burning churches to initiate a response that then spirals into even greater violence — and that is a very, very dangerous game to play.”

The targeting of churches and Christian properties was not unexpected, Angaelos said, given the tensions in Cairo and elsewhere and in light of escalating attacks on Coptic Christians in recent weeks.

The growing threat led him last week to issue a statement warning of “a very real risk upon the life of every Christian.” Pope Tawadros II, the church’s leader in Egypt, also suspended weekly public events for fear of attacks on Christian congregations.

But the warnings didn’t prevent the violence, nor did security efforts to protect churches and Christian communities, according to Ibrahim.

Said Angaelos, “The ferocity and the speed with which it all happened… was quite surprising.”

Burning of books

A Bible Society of Egypt statement posted online Wednesday reported the “complete burning and destruction” of its bookshops in the cities of Assiut and Minia, in southern Egypt.

“Fortunately we were closed today, fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured,” said the statement by Ramez Atallah, the society’s general director. “The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire.”

Other stores and parked cars on those streets were also destroyed, he wrote.

“It is important to underline that — while some Christian properties have been the victim of this violence — they are by no means the only ones targeted,” Atallah said.

“This is an attack against the state by a violent minority in an attempt to destabilize the nation.”

CNN iReporter Amir Beshay, from Cairo, helped draw up a list of Christian churches and properties reportedly targeted.

On it are sites in Alexandria, Arish, Assiut, Beni Suef, Cairo, Fayoum, Gharbiya, Giza, Minya, Qena, Sohag and Suez. They include churches and schools, as well as homes and businesses belonging to Coptic Christians. CNN has not been able independently to verify the reports.

Asked about the attacks on churches Wednesday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States was deeply concerned. “We will continue speaking out against this and continue talking to all parties and all sides about renouncing this violence, about moving forward with a democratic process.”

Daniel Sinclair, director of communications at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the group was “deeply concerned at the unwarranted and continuing targeting of the Coptic community. We urge the government to ensure comprehensive security to all Egyptians, regardless of their religion.”

Long history in Egypt

Egypt’s Christian minority has been the target of a number of attacks in recent years. The bombing of a major church in Alexandria in January 2011 killed 21 people and sparked worldwide condemnation.

The situation has only gotten worse since Egypt’s popular revolution overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, said Angaelos.

“In the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve had more deaths of people just because they are Christians than in the last 20 years,” he said, adding that this had not triggered violent retaliation.

He hopes for forgiveness and reconciliation among all Egyptians going forward, to help build a unified country.

Christians have been in Egypt since the 1st century and were, for centuries, the majority. Some 90% of Coptic Christians still live in the country, he said, making up the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

Angaelos puts the proportion of Christians in Egypt at 15 to 20% of the population.

The CIA World Factbook says 10% of Egypt’s population is Christian, while the Pew Research Center, which says firm numbers are hard to come by, puts the figure at about 5%.

The Coptic church also has adherents in Europe, Canada, the United States, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.

Father Boktor Saad, of Kafr Hakim’s Virgin Mary Church, said he believes that a small group of extremists were responsible for inciting groups to attack his church.

But not everyone participated, and some non-Christians prevented the situation in that village from getting worse, church staff said. They credited moderate Muslims with putting out the fire at Virgin Mary, and further halting attacks on Coptic Christians’ homes and shops.

Journalist Sarah Sirgany reported from Hafr Hakim, Giza, and CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark reported from London. CNN’s Greg Botelho, Arwa Damon, Sarah Brown and Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

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