Qaeda threat to Egyptian Christians may stir militants

November 3, 2010

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(Photo: Demonstrators at the Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque in Cairo claiming a Christian woman had converted to Islam and was being held prisoner by a Christian church, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Militants may feel emboldened by an al Qaeda threat against Egypt’s Christians, even if the network itself might struggle to mount such an assault.

The al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which launched an attack on a Baghdad church on Sunday that left 52 dead, has also threatened Egypt’s church.

While there are no signs of a re-emergence of a 1990s-style Islamist insurgency, Egypt remains alert to anything that could stir communal tension that sometimes boils up over issues such as cross-faith relationships and conversions.

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(Photo: Riot police stand guard outside the Al-Fath Mosque in Cairo on October 1, 2010 as Muslims protest against the Coptic Church over the alleged kidnapping of a Christian woman believed by many to have converted to Islam/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptian authorities were quick to condemn the al Qaeda threat and to boost security at churches in the country, where Christians make up 10 percent of the 78 million people, the biggest Christian population in the Middle East.

“This threat is not directed only at Christians but at the Egyptian state. Egypt’s security ended terrorism in the 1990s and it is capable today of eradicating these threats,” said Father Abdel Maseeh Baseet of the Coptic Orthodox church, the biggest Christian community in Egypt.

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(Photo: Riot police outside the el-Nour mosque in Cairo as demonstrators protest inside against the alleged kidnapping of a Christian woman Kamilia Shehata said to have converted to Islam, August 28, 2010. The banners read, “We are all Kamilia Shehata” (L) and “If I don’t come back, pray the absence prayer for me”/Asmaa Waguih)

The Iraq attack was against a Syrian Catholic church. The Egypt threat was directed against the Coptic Orthodox community, which al Qaeda accused it of detaining two women converts to Islam.  “I think those responsible for the (Iraq) massacre were looking for a justification for what they did by linking it to Egypt’s Church,” said Wasim Badia, an Orthodox church deacon.

Read the full analysis by Sarah Mikhail and Marwa Awad here. See also:

Egypt Christians say intolerance grows, close ranks

Fate of Iraqi Christians will worsen, Catholic experts fear

Factbox: Christian communities in Middle East

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