Shooting turns a wedding into a funeral
 
 
Families mourn the victims of the Warraq church shooting.
 

In her hospital bed, Houwaida Refaat calls out for her 12-year-old daughter Mariam, who she still doesn’t know has lost her life in the Warraq church attack the night before.

“She’s fine,” a relative assures Refaat, “I saw her and spoke to her, she’s fine.”

Ahlam Mounir, Refaat’s cousin, warns me that they haven’t broken the news to the mother yet. “But she has a feeling,” she says, “The last thing she remembers her daughter was in her arms, so she has a feeling she died.”

Mariam is one of four victims of an attack on the Virgin Mary Church in Giza’s Warraq district Sunday night, when two armed gunmen on the back of a motorbike opened fire on a gathering of people who were attending a wedding at the church. Seventeen people were also injured in the attack.

The injured and dead all belong to the same family and had just arrived together in a bus. Another victim was only eight years old. A woman who died was identified by state media reports as the groom’s mother, while family members at the hospital say she was his aunt. 

With both Mariam’s parents lying injured at the hospital, thousands have gathered to mourn and pray for her and the other victims amid heightened security at the same church. 

Anger and grief were palpable as mourners chanted and cried. 

Chants and screams intensified as the bodies were carried inside the church. Women and men wept as they chanted “With our blood and souls, we will redeem the cross.”

Mourners crowded around the caskets, some throwing themselves on them and crying as priests pushed them off, repeatedly asking the crowd to remain quiet out of respect for God and the dead.

These are mostly the same people who gathered to celebrate a wedding just the day before. 

That day, guests had started arriving for the wedding and were greeting each other outside the church, as they waited for another wedding inside to end.

In the hospital bed next to Refaat lies Hoda Fahmy, the bride’s aunt.

“We are all one family,” she says. “We had just arrived in a bus together and we were waiting for the bride when the shooting started.”

Fahmy, like other injured relatives, says they did not see who was shooting.

“I only remember seeing my brothers and sisters on the floor,” she said.

Fahmy recounts that it was a while before ambulances arrived to the scene, forcing residents to transport the injured to hospitals in taxis, microbuses and even tuktuks.

“Why is it always us [Copts]?” Fahmy asks. “It’s because no one ever gets us our rights.”

Eyewitnesses say the street was empty when two masked men on a motorcycle drove by, opening fire on the wedding guests. The shooting lasted for around one minute, Mohamed Lotfy, an eyewitness says.

While some suspect the street was deliberately blocked to make way for the motorcycle, Lotfy says there was an accident that was holding up traffic.

Mona Talaat, who lives in a building adjacent to the church, said the shooting was very loud that it shook her windows.

Talaat ran down to see bodies on the floor and the injured being transported in taxis. “The police and the ambulance arrived after all was said and done,” she said.

Talaat suspects this was a premeditated attack, and that the perpetrators knew it was a wedding “since there are weddings held here every Sunday.”    

“But they turned this wedding into a funeral,” Talaat says.

According to Dr. Mohamed Helmy, chief of staff of Al-Sahel Hospital, where some of the injured were transferred, most cases received gunshots to the leg, except one case who received a bullet to his stomach.

Helmy says the bullets went in and out, suggesting they were shot at close range.

The attack was thought of as a reflection of police and state neglect in general. 

“Who did it?” one man at the funeral asks, “Ask the soldiers outside, ask the interior minister.”

Some argue that the Interior Ministry is equally to blame for its failure to secure churches, the target of increased attacks since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. While the worst violence has been centered in Upper Egypt, this one struck closer to the capital. 

“Even if there were soldiers outside securing the church,” one woman said, “they would’ve died with them.”

Meanwhile, residents of the area see no reason to target this particular church.

Many spoke of the close relationship between the area’s Muslims and Copts. When Muslim Brotherhood protesters march by, residents said, both Muslims and Copts form cordons around the church to protect it.

But now, wary of such attacks, cordons on Sunday only allowed through those with a tattoo of a cross on their wrists. Others were asked to show ID and have their bags thoroughly searched.

Following the memorial service, the caskets were carried outside where the crowd had spilt over, amid loud chants and screams, as the church bells rang.

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