(AINA) -- Following an attack on March 12 by Muslims rioters on 400 Christians, assaulting and trapping them inside a Church for 14 hours in Mersa Matrouh, Egyptian Security authorities arrested 13 Copts, including 4 minors between 13 and 17. A dozen Muslims from over 2000 rioters were also arrested (video of trapped congregation).
Security forces transported the Coptic parishioners from St. Michel's Church in the Rifiyah suburb of Mersa Matrouh, northwestern Egypt, to their homes to safeguard them from being attacked once more by the lurking Muslims, "but took the 4 minors to the police station instead of dropping them at their homes and detained them there," said Rev. Matta Zakaria to Freecopts. "Even 13-year-old Mina Mounir Aziz who was not present at church, was arrested."
After intervention from Coptic priests, the four minors were released.
Two of the released minors interviewed by Coptic News Bulletin said the Security forces 'tricked' them by saying that they would take them to the police station to identify the Muslim suspects and would bring them back home within half an hour. "Although we told them we did not see any of the assailants as we were inside church, they still insisted on taking us with them," said 17-year-old Thomas Adly Edis. It was reported that they were beaten and insulted by the police.
The suspects, including the 9 Copts, will be detained for 15 days pending an investigation and face charges of illegal congregation, destruction of public property, arson and assault.
Rev. Matta said that State Security is using the same scenario which it adopts with every sectarian incident, in order to coerce the Church into "reconciliation" with the perpetrators and waive all civil rights to pursue the matter in the courts. "It is the same as what happened in Nag Hammadi, they kill our sons, and detain our youths," he told Coptic News Bulletin (AINA 2-23-2010).
On Sunday, March 14, Anba Bachomios, Bishop of the Dioceses of Beheirah, met with the Governor of Matrouh and demanded the release of the 9 detained Copts, as well as compensation for those whose lost their homes, businesses and cars.
Rev. Shenouda Gabra, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Mersa Matrouh, said he is surprised at the savage reaction of the Muslims. "If we have an administrative matter with the local council regarding the gate, why do the Muslims interfere and take the matter into their own hands, incited by Sheikh Khamis," he told Katiba Tibia News. He said this was the first time such an attack had occurred in Mersa Matrouh.
The Friday night Muslim attack on St. Michael church, which is attached to the Coptic services building, was incited by Imam Khamis Mohamad Khamis, of the adjacent Al-Ansar Mosque, who preached through a microphone calling for Jihad against the church and its destruction, and the "infidels" (Christians) to get out of the area.
According to witnesses the episode started when a group of Muslim Salafis told workers finishing a gate and the fence surrounding the services building that they do not want the gate. "We agreed to stop work, but as we were collecting our tools, the Muslims starting insulting and beating us," said one of the workers, who got hit by a brick causing hemorrhage to his kidney. "They followed us inside church so we forced them out then they starting pelting the church from all sides," he added.
While the Christians were trapped inside church, the Muslims rioters went around the nearby areas attacking Christians and looting, vandalizing and burning their homes, while their some inhabitants were indoors.
The Muslim attacks left 23 Copts wounded, two of them seriously forcing their transfer to Victoria Hospital in Alexandria, 200 km away.
According to the church, eighteen homes were completely vandalized and burned, and 4 shops and 18 cars "The cars were used for hire by the Coptic owners and mostly financed through bank credit," said activist Wagih Yacoub. "Those people are completely ruined."
The Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization (EUHRO) is holding an international press conference on the incident of Mersa Matrouh on Sunday March 21, in the wake of the "absence of the State authority" and to demand more intervention from the Ministry of Endowment in regulating hateful preaching by Imams, which gives rise to sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims.
By Mary Abdelmassih