Two Girls Among Dead After Attack at Egyptian Church

Egypt boosted security at churches after gunmen killed four people during an attack on a wedding ceremony, the latest attack on the country’s minority Christians following the ousting of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

The shooting outside St. Mary’s Church in the Warraq district of Giza left eight-year-old and 12-year-old girls dead and drew condemnation from both the military-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood organization that has been the target of a crackdown since Mursi was removed from power on July 3. Four people were subsequently arrested, the state-run Ahram Gate website reported.

Yesterday’s attack also left 17 others injured, Health Ministry spokesman Mohamed Fathallah said in a phone interview today. Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawi condemned the incident and described it as a “criminal cowardly act,” according to an e-mailed statement.

Dozens of Christian buildings were attacked in August as Egypt erupted in violence after police broke up sit-ins by Islamist supporters of Mursi. About 10 percent of the country’s approximately 85-million population is Coptic Christian, a community which analysts say is blamed by some Egyptians for supporting Mursi’s ouster.

“Such despicable acts won’t succeed in dividing the nation’s Muslims and Christians” El Beblawi said, pledging police would do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice.

‘Sectarian Violence

The shooting is emblematic of the rifts in Egypt society. Christians who had already complained of discrimination under ousted President Hosni Mubarak say that the ouster of Mursi and the targeting of the Brotherhood will further stoke sectarian tensions and leave them more vulnerable.

“The attack is part of the recent escalating sectarian violence against Copts in the country” says Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a group in Cairo that monitors civil liberties. The shooting “is the first of its kind recently in Cairo, and also the fact that it’s doesn’t involve only looting churches or Christians houses, but also” seeks to kill Christians. Ibrahim says the attack was revenge for Christians supporting Mursi’s ouster.

At least 15 cases of kidnapping of Christians for ransom were reported in the last two weeks in the southern province of Minya, according to Ibrahim.

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Mursi hails, also condemned the violence, blaming the incident on the lack of police protection, according to an e-mailed statement.

The nature of the recent assaults sets them apart from the more common religious tension that occasionally boils over into violence between Muslims and Christians, over such things as land disputes and love affairs.

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