The assault occurred in the village of Soul, Atfif in Helwan Governorate, 30 kilometres from Cairo, and torched the Church of St Mina and St George.
According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), there are conflicting reports about the whereabouts of the church pastor, Father Yosha, and three deacons who were at church. Some say they died in the fire and others believe they are being held captive by the Muslims inside the church.
AINA said witnesses report the mob prevented the fire department from entering the village. The army, which has been stationed for the last two days in the village of Bromil, seven kilometers from Soul, initially refused to go into Soul, according to the officer in charge. When the army finally sent three tanks to the village, Muslim elders sent them away, saying that everything was "in order now."
A curfew has been imposed on the 12,000 Christians in the village.
The incident is reported to have been triggered by a relationship between 40-year-old Copt Ashraf Iskander and a Muslim woman.
A "reconciliation" meeting was arranged recently between the relevant Coptic and Muslim families, and together with the Muslim elders it was decided that Ashraf Iskander would have to leave the village because Muslims torched his house.
AINA said the Muslim woman's father was killed by his cousin because he did not kill his daughter to preserve the family's honor, which led the woman's brother to avenge the death of his father by killing the cousin. The village Muslims blamed the Christians.
The Muslim mob attacked the church, exploding five or six gas cylinders inside the church, pulled down the cross and the domes and burnt everything inside.
According to AINA, activist Ramy Kamel of Katibatibia Coptic advocacy called US-based Coptic Hope Sat TV and sent an emergency message on behalf of the Copts in Soul village, as they are being attacked by the mob.
He also said that no one is able to contact the priest and the deacons inside the burning church, and there is no answer from their cell phones.
Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub reported the mob has broken into Coptic homes and has called on Copts to leave the village.
Witnesses said the mob chanted "Allahu Akbar", and vowed to conduct their morning prayers on the church lot after burning the building to the ground.
Christians face fresh attacks in Egypt
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Published 07 March 2011 | ASSIST News Service