Coptic church torched in Egypt

A mob of several thousand Muslims from the village of Elmarinab in Edfu, Aswan province, demolished and torched St George's church, which was being renovated.

According to Mary Abdelmassih, writing for AINA - Assyrian International News Agency , the mob demolished the dome, walls and columns, after Friday prayers then went to the church depot where the lumber to be used for construction was stored and torched it. The fire lasted 2 hours, but the attack continued until 7 PM.

AINA says that in an interview on Coptic TV channel, Father Salib of St. George's Church said: "The Imam of one of the village mosques called on the people to take matters in their own hands." Other witnesses named the Imam as Sheikh Sabry.

AINA reports that according to eyewitnesses, the Muslims also torched a large depot of electrical goods owned by a Coptic Christian, a supermarket and four Coptic homes. Muslims prevented the fire brigade from entering the village. Security forces, which were present, "stood there watching," said Mr.Michael Ramzy, a social worker at the church.

Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human rights Organizations sent an urgent message to Field Marshall Tantawi to save the Copts in Egypt. "The Copts, their lives and their churches are in danger," he said.

AINA said attorney Mamdouh Nakhla, head of the Al-Kalema human rights organization, condemned Muslims taking the law in their own hands. He said:"If the Egyptian Government is unable to protect its citizens, then the civilized international society should step in immediately to stop this human tragedy."

AINA reports that Egyptian media denied the incident. Mostafa el Sayed, Governor of Aswan, appeared on State TV denying that any church was being torched. He said it was a "guest home" and not a church. El Sayed said he gave his permission for the building to be 9 meters high, but the church contractor made it 13 meters high.

"The contractor was slow in removing the 4 meters, so the Muslim youths took the matter into their[own] hand." He said the fire was in a depot of the church which housed the construction lumber.

AINA reports that el Sayed said both parties are at fault, the Christians for exceeding the height, and the Muslims for taking matters into their own hands. He added that he arranged for a "reconciliation" meeting to be held in the next two hours.

Father Salib refuted the Governor of Aswan's allegations that the torched construction was a guest home. He said St. George's church was built 100 years ago and as it was dilapidated, the diocese was given permission to renovate it completely. He said that the Governor of Aswan himself signed the license for the renovation in 2010.

AINA said the renovation, although having all the necessary licenses from the government, prompted a crisis in Elmarinab village in the beginning of September. Islamists objected to the presence of a cross, bell and dome and prevented Copts from leaving their homes.

AINA further stated that outspoken Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub said what happened in Elmarinab is a scandal. "The mob went out today, knowing that they have the support of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)," he said. "I accuse SCAF to be in collusion with these people as well as the Governor of Aswan and the head of prosecution."

Yacoub said that Coptic activists, including himself, were going to Aswan Saturday (Oct.1) to see what was happening there, even if they were killed. "I call on all Coptic men and Muslim liberals to join us to go to Aswan." He also accused the Governor of Aswan of not telling the truth, "because he knows very well that no media will go to the village to take photos there."

Georges Bouchra of Copts United NGO reported the Copts are staying indoors, as it was rumored that Muslims have threatened to torch their homes.

The Maspero Coptic Youth organization held a rally in the densely Coptic-populated district of Shubra in Cairo to protest the attack of Elmarinab church. It was attended by a crowd of thousands.

On October 1, several Coptic organizations, together with other liberal movements, were due to hold a rally under the motto: "No to attacks on Coptic Churches," which was slated to start at 5 pm, leaving from Shubra and ending in Tahrir Square.