6 Coptic Christians in Egypt Shot Dead As They Left Christmas Mass
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Egypt (AINA) -- An assassination attempt on the life of Bishop Kirollos in southern Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi was foiled tonight. Six Copts were killed and nine wounded as they came out of Church after celebrating the Coptic Christmas Eve midnight mass on Wednesday 6th January at 11.15 PM.

"I was the one intended to be assassinated by this plot, and when it failed the criminals turned round and started shooting and finishing off the young ones." Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hammagi Diocese told Middle East Christian Association (MECA) today in an aired interview.

Eyewitnesses saw a dark-green "Fiat" 131 without registration, one Peugeot 504 car and a half-truck. The cars were driven by masked men shooting randomly at the congregation as they came out of Church. The cars then went into three nearby areas (15th March Street, 15 May Street and Railway Station Street) shooting Copts.

One eye-witness told MECA that those killed were mostly young men in their early 20s. He said that most people were killed or wounded near the church, but that the cars went around shooting in other areas, resulting in two more death, besides the wounded. It was reported that among the dead was a young man and his fiancé and a 14-years-old boy .

Another witness criticized the absence of security. "Security came as everything was over, instead of trying to catch the criminals, they were interrogating us about the description of the cars." This video shows the shootings.

An eye-witness told Coptic News Bulletin from Nag Hammadi Hospital that the situation is dire, and there is a critical shortage of blood for transfusions. "The Muslims promised us a wonderful Christmas, and I think the message is received now," he said.

The Bishop accused security services of negligence in dealing with the events which led to the massacre, and added: "Not one single security man intervened to prevent casualties." He criticized the absence of adequate State Security forces guarding the church, which is customary on such events and in view of the unrest which took place in the area in November 2009.

According to Wagih Yacoub of MECA Bishop Kirollos had recently received a death threat.

Bishop Kirollos told Freecopts that the assassination attempt was meant to dispose of him in view of his standing position on the rights of the victims of the attacks on Christians in November 2009, in the areas of Farshout, Abu Shusha, Aerky and Alshokeify, part of the parish of Nag Hammadi. The State Security was heavily criticized at the time for the shameful role it played when Muslims assaulted Copts, in addition to looting and burning their businesses. One hundred and sixty three Copts were forcibly deported from their village by State Security following the events. These events were sparked by a rumor that a Copt had indecently assaulted a minor Muslim girl. Many Copts believe that the rape incident was fabricated by the Muslims to use it as a pretext to start violence against them. The accused Copt has not yet been charged by the Police. (AINA 11-22-2009, 11-23-2009).

A state of curfew was imposed tonight on the city of Nag Hammadi, and those inhabitants who were outside could not get back into their homes in the city.

Most witnesses interviewed believe that there was collusion between those carrying out today's shooting and the State Security, as for the first time, none of them attended the Christmas Eve midnight mass, which is customary in those events. "They must have known in advance of the shootings and avoided the embarrassment of participating in the festivities inside church," said one witness.

All Christmas festivities have been cancelled said the Bishop. "Copts are terrified and will be staying indoors."

A similar incident occurred in April 2009 when Muslims opened fire on worshipers as they left the prayer service on Easter Eve in the village of Higaza, Qena Governorate, resulting in the death of Amir Stephanos (36 years) Ayub Said (22) and the injury of Mina Samir (35) Higaza village turned into a military barracks since April last.

By Mary Abdelmassih

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