Egypt: 15 arrested over arson attack on Christian homes

A damaged home belonging to one of seven Christian families whose houses were looted and set on fire by Muslim men at Al-Karm village in the southern province of Minya.Reuters

Police have arrested 15 people after an arson attack on homes belonging to Coptic Christians in an Upper Egyptian village, in the latest of a series of attacks on Christians in the country.

The arson attack on five houses in Abou Yaboub in the Minya governate came on Saturday after rumours spread about a church being built in the area. The arrests reportedly came hours later.

The incident is the latest in a string of attacks against Christians, especially in the Minya region, home to a relatively high proportion of Coptic Christians. Last week, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of Minya, Anba Makarios called on police to enforce the law protecting citizens from sectarian violence, saying that attacks are taking place at an average of one every 10 days.

Elsewhere, on 5 July an Orthodox Christian nun from Mar Girgis Monastery in Old Cairo was killed after reportedly being hit by a stray bullet on the Cairo-Alexandria Highway.

Recent weeks have also seen the assault on homes of Christian families in the village of Karm el Loofy, the burning of a kindergarten run by Christians in Minya, and the murder on 30 June of Rafael Moussa, a Coptic Orthodox priest of the church of St. George. The murder was carried out in Al Arish, a coastal city in North Sinai that is only a few miles away from Gaza. So-called Islamic State (IS) took responsibility for the killing, describing Moussa as a "disbelieving combatant."

Also in Minya in May, a 70-year-old Christian woman – alleged to be the mother of a man who was romantically involved with a Muslim woman – was stripped naked by a mob of 300 Muslims and paraded through the streets of her village.

Tensions between Christians and Muslims have intensified after the Arab Spring of 2011.

The worst single incident came in February 2015, with the beheadings by Islamic State of 21 Egyptian Christian migrant workers.

Egypt has an estimated population of nine million Christians. Mostly Orthodox Copts, they account for about 10 per cent of Egypt's population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.