Fri, Apr 14, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Egypt increases security at churches

SOMBER EASTER:The Coptic Orthodox Diocese in Minya said that events would be ‘without any festive manifestations,’ in mourning for victims of Sunday’s bombings

AP, CAIRO

Outside of Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope, a dozen high-ranking police officers were stationed on all entrances, searching cars and scanning the area, as security measures were beefed up outside churches before Easter prayers on Sunday.

The usually festive occasion is tainted with fearful apprehension after twin bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria killed 45 people this week on Palm Sunday, which marks the start of the Coptic Christian Holy Week.

The increased security measures on display outside churches across the country are meant to restore a sense of security for Egypt’s Copts amid a war on the embattled minority declared by the Islamist State group, which claimed Sunday’s bombings.

However, the enhanced security can do little against the effect of repeated attacks on Coptic churches in recent years.

“No security measure can stop a suicide bomber with jihadist beliefs from blowing up a church,” Coptic engineer Emad Thomas told reporters on Wednesday.

However, he said that Copts will still attend prayers on Sunday, as they have continued to go to church despite earlier attacks.

“Egypt’s Copts put their trust in God and not in security measures,” he said.

The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior announced the identity of the Alexandria church bomber, saying that he belongs to the same terrorist cell that carried out a bombing in December last year of a chapel adjacent to Egypt’s main cathedral.

The ministry identified the suspect as Mahmoud Hassan Mubarak Abdallah, a 30-year-old worker at a petroleum company, and published his picture.

It also published names and pictures of others identified as fugitive members of the same cell, offering a cash reward for leads on their whereabouts.

Outside St Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cairo’s central downtown area, a military tank was stationed with five soldiers on top — one of the more overt manifestations of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s declaration of a three-month state of emergency.

In the southern city of Assiut, security barriers closed off an area within about 100m of large churches.

A local security source told reporters that agents would be dispersed ahead of Sunday’s prayers and a special unit would be formed at the security directorate to receive reports about suspicious individuals in the vicinity of churches.

A military source said that troops had started patrolling the city and would be stationed across town before Sunday.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to brief the media.

In the neighboring city of Minya, home to the highest Coptic Christian population in the nation, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese said that celebrations would be limited to the liturgical prayers “without any festive manifestations,” in mourning for those killed on Sunday.

Peter Naggar, a Coptic lawyer, said that the enhanced security around churches was an effort to appease Copts, many of whom blame the state for failing to protect them.

In the Tanta attack, the bomber entered the church and reached the front rows before blowing himself up.

“The government should have taken these measures before the Coptic celebrations season and not after disaster struck,” Naggar said.

After claiming the church bombing in December last year, which killed 25 worshipers, the Islamic State group vowed in a statement circulated online to continue its war on Egypt’s Copts.

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