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Third Day of Sectarian Violence Rocks Egyptian City

Friday’s knife attacks in several Coptic Christian churches set off a cascade of violence on Saturday, after the funeral of an elderly man who was stabbed to death in church. The clashes continued on Sunday, when Orthodox Copts were marking the Palm Sunday holy day.

Police have arrested a man they say carried out all of Friday’s knife attacks by himself, moving from church to church. They describe him as mentally ill.

Reporter Vivian Salama of the Daily Star Egypt newspaper is in Alexandria . She says there are many questions about what exactly happened on Friday, and the doubts are fueling Coptic anger.

Parishioners who witnessed the attack at one church say the description of the man the police have in custody does not match the man they saw with the knife. And, they told Salama, the two churches are on opposite sides of town, 45-minutes to an hour away from each other. “So they were saying that it was absolutely impossible that he could have run [between them] in such a short time. They believe, several of them actually said to me that they believe this is a cover-up, a conspiracy by the government so that they don’t instigate further tensions, [and] by saying that he’s someone who is insane, someone who is mentally ill as well,” she said.

(The Copts) seem to think that their security is not a priority for the police and for the Egyptian government,” she said.

That feeling of insecurity is especially high in the wake of the anti-Christian violence that rocked Alexandria in October after Muslims attacked churches for allegedly distributing a DVD that they deemed offensive to Islam.

Despite the renewed clashes on Sunday, a leading Coptic columnist for the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, Milad Hanna, believes things will settle down soon. “The Christians are not [an] aggressive group. They are, on the contrary, they are over-patient, more than what they should have done. And the Muslims, in the last analysis, they like the Copts, and the back history of the relations between the two main religions, Islam and Christianity, is healthy and good. Therefore I think things will cool off,” he said.