Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Friday, 8 January 2010

Three arrested after Egypt Copt killings

Egyptian man throws stones
Protesters throw stones during clashes between Coptic Christians and police

Egyptian police say they have arrested three suspects in a drive-by shooting that killed six Coptic Christians and one security official.

The shooting came as worshippers left a church in Naga Hamady, southern Egypt after a midnight mass on Coptic Christmas Eve on 7 January.

On Thursday protesters clashed with police at the hospital in Naga Hamady.

More than 1,000 Christians had gathered at the hospital to collect the bodies of six of the victims.

The drive-by shooting is thought to be in revenge for the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man.

Following the reported rape in November there were five days of riots in the town, with Christian properties set on fire and damaged.

The BBC's Yolande Knell, in Cairo

Since the 1970s, when Islamic extremism began to increase in Egypt, there have been sporadic clashes between Muslims and members of the Coptic Christian minority.

The most serious cases are usually in poor, rural areas where the trigger is often a dispute over land or women, which spills over into sectarian violence. Whole communities can become involved.

Local authorities' handling of such cases is often criticised. Police are accused of delaying their response to reports of fighting and then simply arresting equal numbers of individuals from each faith.

Sometimes criminal investigations are dropped in favour of informal reconciliation meetings.

Three people are reported to have pulled up outside the church in Naga Hamady on 7 January, killing at least six Coptic Christians and a security official and injuring 10 others, including two Muslim passers-by.

The church's Bishop Kirollos said there had been threats in the days leading up to the Christmas Eve service - a reason he decided to end his Mass an hour earlier than normal.

"For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas Eve," he told the Associated Press.

He said he left the church minutes before the attack.

"A driving car swerved near me, so I took the back door," he said. "By the time I shook hands with someone at the gate, I heard the mayhem, lots of machine-gun shots."

Witness Youssef Sidhom told the BBC that the attack shocked everyone, including police guarding the church.

Harassment claims

Naga Hamady is 40 miles (64km) from Luxor, southern Egypt's biggest city.

Coptic Christians - who make up 10% of Egypt's 80 million population - have complained of harassment and discrimination.

Some Copts argue that previous attacks on them have gone unpunished or have resulted in light sentences.

Most Christians in Egypt are Copts - Christians descended from the ancient Egyptians.

Their church split from the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in AD451 because of a theological dispute over the nature of Christ, but is now, on most issues, doctrinally similar to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Print Sponsor

Egypt clashes after Copt killings
07 Jan 10 |  Middle East
Clashes erupt over Egypt pig cull
03 May 09 |  Middle East
Christians killed in Egypt feud
20 Apr 09 |  Middle East
Egyptian Christian's recognition struggle
13 Feb 09 |  Middle East
Egyptian killed in sectarian row
08 Oct 08 |  Middle East
Copts shot dead in Cairo attack
29 May 08 |  Middle East

Christian Science Monitor Egypt: Why Christian, Muslim clashes are different this time - 29 hrs ago
CNEWS Christmas shooting suspects surrender - 30 hrs ago
Japan Today Suspects in Egypt's Christmas slayings surrender - 35 hrs ago
Business Day Coptic Christians on rampage after funeral - 52 hrs ago
The Independent Tension rises in Egypt after violence at Coptic funeral - 54 hrs ago

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific