Coptic activists call for Tuesday protest after church attack

Four people were killed and 17 injured when gunmen opened fire on a church in Giza’s Warraq district late Sunday, the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.

Two armed gunmen on the back of a motorbike reportedly opened fire on a gathering of people who were attending a wedding at the Virgin Mary Church. Among those killed were an eight-year-old girl and a woman who was identified as the mother of the groom, a Ministry of Interior official told MENA on Monday.

Most of the injured were taken to the Nasser Institute and Sahel Hospital, a health ministry official told MENA.

The state-run daily newspaper Al-Ahram reported that authorities drew up sketches of the perpetrators based on eyewitness descriptions. They were identified as two men in their 20s or 30s.

Four suspects from Warraq and the nearby Imbaba neighborhood were arrested pursuant to the incident and are being interrogated, a Giza Security Directorate source told the state-run news portal Egynews.

Investigations are ongoing and authorities are taking the testimonies of the victims’ families and the wedding guests to assess whether the attack was political in nature.

Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi condemned the attack, MENA reported, and sent his condolences to the families of the victims. He said all necessary medical treatment will be given to the injured.

“These villainous acts will not succeed in dividing the elements of the national fabric, Muslims and Christians,” he said, adding that the government will stand firm against attempts to sow the seeds of sectarianism.

The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy — an umbrella group comprised of supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi — also condemned the attack, stressing the sanctity and holiness of places of worship, state institutions as well as public and private property.

The alliance also called for a swift investigation into the attack.

Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Tayyeb issued a statement condemning the attack as a criminal action that goes against religion and morals, and sent his condolences to the victim’s families. The Grand Mufti of Egypt also expressed his condolences.

In a statement released from its press office in London, the recently banned Muslim Brotherhood offered its “deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured in this senseless act of violence outside the Coptic Church in the district of Warraq.”

“We are saddened to see that, far from fulfilling their duty of care, the military-backed authorities continue to turn a blind eye to deliberate acts of arson, vandalism and murder,” the statement said. “It is painful to note that Beshay Lotfi, priest of Warraq Church where the attack took place, confirms a total lack of police protection since June 30.”

The Salafi Nour Party also condemned the attack. In a statement carried by MENA, spokesperson Sherif Taha said that the group deplored any bloodshed, whether of Christians or Muslims, and that such incidents will lead to civil strife.

A number of liberal parties also condemned the attack. The Dostour Party described the incident as “another stab directed at the heart of Egypt by its enemies,” but added that the country would continue to stand united against sectarianism.

Abdullah al-Nasser Helmy, secretary general of the Sufi Alliance, denounced what he described as the cowardly terrorist attack.

Attacks against churches and sectarian violence have increased across Egypt following Morsi’s ouster on July 3. Critics have slammed the interim government for its failure to respond to the ongoing crisis.

The Maspero Youth Coalition accused the government of failing to protect the Coptic community, and blamed the authorities for the upswing in sectarian violence in the aftermath of the violent dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins on August 14 that left over 600 people dead.

The coalition called for demonstrations in front of the Cabinet headquarters on Tuesday at noon to demand Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim’s removal, and for security officials to be held accountable for their failure to protect Christians.