Published: 09:30 GMT Standard Time - Friday 06 January 2012
Threats to Egyptian churches ahead of Eastern Christmas this weekend
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Egypt
“I do not want another Nag Hammadi massacre to happen again.” Egyptian church leader
Threats of attacks on Egyptian churches have been issued ahead of Eastern Christmas services this weekend.
A senior church leader said that he had received several threats of attacks to be carried out on churches in Nag Hammadi on Christmas Eve, January 6. This was the scene of a horrific anti-Christian massacre on the same day in 2010; six worshippers were killed in a drive-by shooting as they left the Christmas Eve service.
Egyptian Christians celebrate Christmas on 7 January, traditionally holding a midnight service on Christmas Eve. Following the threats, churches in Nag Hammadi cancelled all their New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve festivities, and plan to end Christmas Eve services at an earlier time.
Christians in Egypt are particularly vulnerable to attack by Islamists around the New Year and Christmas period. Last year, 23 worshippers were killed in a bombing outside a church in Alexandria following a New Year’s Eve service.
The latest threats have been reported to the police, and an appeal has been made to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for protection. The Egyptian military had previously undertaken to protect churches New Year’s Eve celebrations. And the Muslim Brotherhood, the leading Islamist group in Egypt, has pledged to defend churches during Christmas.
The heightened danger in Nag Hammadi comes as Christian families in the area are being targeted in an escalating series of kidnappings. Eleven Christian children were seized between August 11 and 24December 2011; the captors demanded ransom payments for the return of the youngsters.
The leader of the kidnappers has allegedly threatened to carry out a massacre in Nag Hammadi after the security forces made a failed attempt to arrest him and his gang.
Egyptians have this week been voting in the third and final round of elections for the lower house of parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party emerged from the first two stages with the largest share of the vote, with the more hard-line Salafist al-Nur Party in second place.
The final results are expected on 13 January.