Release International warns of terror threats against Egypt's Christians
Intelligence reports warn of a new wave of attacks against Christians. Security services say Islamic State are planning bus attacks on Christians going to summer camps. Church leaders have been asked to cancel camps and conferences. Release International urges protection for the largest remaining Christian community in the Middle East.
Christians in Egypt have been put on alert to expect a new wave of attacks by Muslim extremists. The authorities say militants are planning attacks on Christians, as well as army and police personnel.
Partners of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, say security services have asked church leaders to cancel all trips and activities outside church buildings until at least the end of July.
Egyptian state security sent a message to the heads of denominations yesterday ordering the cancellation of all Christian conferences and large gatherings.
They warned suicide bombers from the Islamic State group were planning to attack buses taking Christians to conferences.
From the middle of June to September, during the school holidays, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian Christians of all ages go to conferences organised by churches. This is a time of spiritual revival in the Christian community. These conferences have never been stopped in the past.
Representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Presidency of Protestant Churches in Egypt are taking the warning seriously and say their churches will abide by this request. Other church leaders are sceptical, seeing the restriction as an attempt to halt Christian activities during the summer.
As the security clampdown came into force, a church guard in Alexandria was attacked after he challenged a man trying to enter a church building. The guard, Mina Fouad Zakhary, stopped the man from passing through the gateway of Saint Mark and Saint Peter Church.
When the guard asked why the man wanted to go into the church, he took out a razor blade and slashed the guard's neck. Other security guards stepped in and captured the attacker. The wounded man survived the attack, which was carried out at the weekend.
In the last eight months more than 100 Coptic Christians have been killed in attacks on church groups and individuals.
The word Copt used to be synonymous with Egyptian, until the conquest of Egypt by Islam in the seventh century. Today Coptic Christians make up around 12 per cent of the population of Egypt. They have long been targets of extremists and face discrimination across their society. The Muslim Brotherhood have taken out their anger on the Coptic community for being deposed from power.
‘Today, Egypt’s Copts are the largest remaining Christian community in the Middle East,’ says Release International’s Chief Executive Paul Robinson. ‘They are on the frontline of the faith.
‘Many have joined the growing exodus of Christians from the lands of the Bible. It’s crucial that a strong Christian presence should remain in Egypt and that Christians should be able to live in safety in their land.
‘Release urges the Egyptian government to provide proper protection for its vulnerable Christians and bring to justice those responsible for these continuing attacks.’
Egypt’s Christians have asked for prayer for safety from extremist attacks; for the speedy recovery of church guard Mina Fouad Zakhary and for others injured in previous attacks, and prayer for all who are grieving for loved ones killed in recent attacks. They also ask for prayer that the attackers will be brought to repentance and have a change of heart.
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.