CAIRO (AFP) – At least six Coptic Christians were shot dead and 45 wounded by gunfire in religious clashes with Muslims in the Egyptian capital, a Coptic priest told AFP on Wednesday, updating an earlier toll.
“We have at the clinic the bodies of six Copts, all of them shot,” local priest Samann Ibrahim told AFP, referring to a medical centre attached to his church.
The clashes between Christians and Muslims erupted in the poor working class district of Moqattam mid-afternoon Tuesday when at least 1,000 Christians gathered there to protest against the burning of a church last week.
A hospital official had late Tuesday initially reported one person dead.
“We also have 45 people who were injured, all of them, without exception, hit by gunshots. Others who were injured have been taken to other hospitals,” said Ibrahim.
He said some among the crowd of Muslims had opened fire on the demonstrators, adding that they had also petrol-bombed local houses and workplaces.
Several plastic recycling shops and warehouses storing cardboard boxes had been torched.
Fighting broke out when dozens of Muslims showed up in Moqattam, inhabited by Copts who work as garbage collectors and who had blocked a main north-south artery in the capital.
People threw rocks from both sides and witnesses said soldiers at the scene fired shots into the air in a bid to disperse the crowds.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million population, complain of systematic discrimination and have been the target of several sectarian attacks.
Ahead of the clashes in Moqattam, Copts had protested in central Cairo against the burning of a church south of the capital after deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims.
The protest outside the radio and television building came a day after at least 2,000 angry Christians demanded that the torched church be re-built, and that those responsible be brought to justice.
The Shahedain (Two Martyrs) church, in the Helwan provincial city of Sol, was set ablaze on Friday after clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims that left two people dead.
The violence was triggered by a feud between two families, which disapproved of a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman in Sol.
“Problems escalated in the village when a group of Muslims headed to the burned out church and conducted a mass Islamic prayer there,” Maged Ibrahim, a Christian resident told Egyptian state television.
On Monday, Egypt’s ruling military council vowed to have the church rebuilt and to prosecute those behind the arson attack.
There is a long history of animosity between Copts and Muslims in Egypt, though there have been recent signs of a rapprochement following a deadly New Years’s Day bombing of a church in Alexandria and during the recent popular revolt that unseated long-time president Hosni Mubarak.
Twenty-one people died and dozens more were wounded when what was believed to be a suicide bomber blew himself up just after midnight on New Year’s Eve as worshippers left a church in Alexandria.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after an Al-Qaeda-linked group said it was behind a deadly October 31 Baghdad church hostage-taking and threatened Coptic Christians as well.