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State TV: At least 12 killed, 232 wounded in clashes at Cairo church

By Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Ian Lee

ICC Note:

Twelve people were reportedly killed at a church in Cairo on Saturday after violence began over false rumors that a Muslim convert from Christianity was being held by the church against her will.

5/8/2011 Egypt (CNN) – Egypt’s prime minister called for an emergency Cabinet meeting Sunday, a day after officials reported at least 12 people were killed in sectarian clashes outside a Cairo church.

Officials said the violence began over rumors that a Christian woman who converted to Islam was being held at the church against her will.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf postponed a trip to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the church attack, according to EgyNews, Egypt’s official news agency. Egyptian state TV said 10 people died and 232 were wounded in the violence Saturday. At least 190 were arrested.

During clashes on Saturday, witnesses said an armed group of Muslims marched on Saint Mena Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt.

Witnesses said Muslims and Christians exchanged gunfire, sending people running for cover.

“With my own eyes I saw three people killed and dozens injured,” said Mina Adel, a Christian resident. “There’s no security here. There’s a big problem. People attacked us, and we have to protect ourselves.”

There were conflicting reports about who attacked the church.

Some witnesses said the group was made up of Muslim fundamentalists, known as Salafists. Others, including Interior Ministry spokesman Alla Mahmoud, said it was angry Muslims from a nearby mosque.

Mahmoud said the clashes were sparked by reports of a Christian woman who married a Muslim man and was allegedly being held inside the church.

Military, special forces and riot police were called in to try to break up the violence, firing warning shots in the air, according to witnesses.

At the same time, at the nearby Coptic Church of the Holy Virgin, firefighters responded to a blaze that witnesses said appeared to have been started by the members of the same group that attacked the other church.

Hundreds of residents in the working class neighborhood of Imbaba stood outside as the church burned and two men were seen jumping from a window of the building, according to witnesses.

Across the street, residents standing outside the Al Wehda mosque blamed “thugs” for the violence.

“It was thugs who burned the church, not Salafists (fundamentalists),” said Jamal El Banan. “We never had such sedition before the revolution.”

A Coptic church in the town of Alexandria was bombed on New Year’s Day, killing 23 people — the deadliest attack on Christians in Egypt in recent times.

Ten days later, a gunman killed a Christian man and wounded five others on a train in Egypt.

In November, a group with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq announced that all Christians in the Middle East would be “legitimate targets,” as the group’s deadline for Egypt’s Coptic church to release alleged Muslim female prisoners expired.

The group’s claim that the Coptic Church in Egypt is holding female prisoners is based on widespread rumors of Coptic women in Egypt converting to Islam and being detained by the church in an attempt to compel or persuade them to return to their original faith.

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