- Middle East/North Africa
The Egyptian presidency on Tuesday blamed Coptic youths for starting fights outside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral with residents of the nearby Abbasseya district during a funeral Sunday.
The violence, which left two dead and others injured, started as the cathedral concluded funeral services for the four killed in Khosous, Qalyubiya, after bloody clashes with Muslim locals, which also left one Muslim dead.
“An argument over graffiti comprised of Christian symbols on the wall of an Al-Azhar building in Khosous escalated, resulting in the killing of a Muslim Egyptian followed by the killing of five Christian Egyptians. Security forces contained the situation and deployed forces throughout the city to prevent further clashes, while judicial authorities opened an investigation into the incident and arrests were made against suspects,” said the statement, which was released by the office of Essam al-Haddad, an assistant to President Mohamed Morsy.
The statement contradicts reports saying that four Coptic Christians were killed. Conflicting reports have also come as to whether the graffiti on the wall was the work of Christian or Muslim youth.
“On Sunday April 7, events further escalated during the funeral procession of the Christian Egyptians killed when angry mourners vandalized cars lined up on Ramses street. This led to stone-throwing and [the setting off] of fire-crackers by people in the neighborhood of the cathedral. The situation further escalated with [live ammunition] and pellets being fired, according to the neighborhood's security official,” the statement added.
"Camera lenses also captured individuals carrying live weapons, Molotov cocktails, and rocks to the roof of the cathedral as well as inside and outside of it, which prompted police to intervene and disperse the clashes with tear gas. The individuals seen to be firing firearms have been vehemently disavowed by the mourners. Investigations are still being conducted to reveal the identity of those involved in this incident," the statement read.
Meanwhile, Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, slammed the presidency’s reaction to the clashes.
“Should we wait for directives to open an investigation once a problem occurs?” the pope asked in a phone-in with private satellite channel ONtv earlier on Tuesday, commenting on Morsy’s decision late Monday to order an investigation into the events. “Justice should be vigilant and the law must be applied,” he said.
The presidency’s statement, meanwhile, claimed that the office had done its best to control the situation and protect citizens lives, adding that the government is “doing all it can to realize the sovereignty of law and hold the assailants accountable.”