Middle East

Egypt's prime minister denounces Coptic church attack

Mourners at the funerals of the victims of Sunday's church attack in Cairo (21 October 2013)
Image caption Mourners gathered outside a mortuary in Cairo before the victims' funerals

Egypt's prime minister has condemned an attack outside a Coptic church in Cairo on Sunday that killed four people, including an eight-year-old girl.

Hazem Beblawi said the security forces were searching for those responsible for the "callous and criminal act".

He also vowed that it would "not succeed in sowing divisions" between the Christian and Muslim communities.

Coptic activists have accused Mr Beblawi's interim government of failing to protect churches from attack.

Their community has been targeted by some Islamists who accuse it of backing the military's overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in July.

'Terrible act'

In the latest attack, two masked gunmen riding on motorbikes fired indiscriminately at people emerging from a wedding service at the Church of the Virgin Mary in the capital's Waraa district on Sunday evening.

Health ministry and ambulance service officials said four people were killed, including the girl and a woman, and 17 others were wounded.

On Monday, mourners gathered at the church, whose walls were marked by bullets. Security personnel were also deployed on the street outside.

Father Dawoud, a priest at the Church of the Virgin Mary told the AFP news agency: "What is happening is that all of Egypt is being targeted, not just the Christians.

"Enough! People are getting sick and tired of this."

In a cabinet statement, Mr Beblawi said police were investigating the attack, which he called a "callous and criminal act".

"Such terrible acts will not succeed in dividing Muslims and Christians."

The grand imam of al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest religious authority, said the attack ran "contrary to both religion and morals".

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Media captionGunmen fired shots as people left the church

The National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated alliance calling for the reinstatement of Mr Morsi, urged police to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly and stressed the sanctity of places of all places of worship.

The Association of Maspero Youth, a Coptic group formed in 2011 after more than 20 Christians were killed by soldiers outside the Maspero state television building, accused security forces of failing to protect churches.

"If the Egyptian government does not care about the security and rights of Christians, then we must ask why we are paying taxes and why we are not arming ourselves if the police are not protecting us?'' it said.

About 40 Coptic churches were destroyed in a wave of attacks in August after hundreds of people were killed when security forces broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo.

Islamist extremists have accused the Coptic Church of having conspired to oust the president.

When the head of the armed forces, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, went on television to announce that the Islamist president had been deposed in the wake of mass opposition protests demanding his resignation, Pope Tawadros II appeared alongside him.

Pope Tawadros said that the general's "roadmap" had been devised by honourable people, who had Egypt's best interests at heart.

He has since received death threats, while several Christians have been killed. Christian shops, homes and businesses have also been targeted.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of Christianity's oldest, founded in Alexandria around 50 AD. Today, Christians make up about 10% of Egypt's population of 80 million.