France, Canada probe Coptic church threats

Paris–French police are investigating threats made against Coptic churches in France in the wake of a deadly attack on one in Egypt, a security source said Monday.

The Paris anti-terrorism squad launched a probe on terrorism-related charges after a church leader filed a complaint, the source said.

A priest at the Coptic church of Saint Mary and Saint Mark in the Paris suburb of Chatenay-Malabry told AFP on Monday that he had made a complaint to police.

The priest, Girguis Lucas, said a worshipper at his church had seen "threats made on the Internet by Islamic mujahedeens who announced other attacks in Europe and in France in particular, and who mention our church."

"These threats are not a fantasy," said Lucas, who estimated there are 250,000 Coptic Christians in France. "Here people are free. We cannot accept these threats."

Germany's Coptic Christians have also received threats of attack by radical Muslims and asked for protection, a bishop said in comments published by a newspaper on Sunday.

"The Internet is full of threats of this kind against us. The police have alerted us several times against attacks by radical Muslims," Coptic Bishop Anba Damian said in a report on the Bild's online edition.

"I have written to the interior minister to ask for protection."

Egypt was on high alert Monday ahead of the Coptic Christmas holiday on January 7 following the New Year's Day church bombing that killed 23 people in the city of Alexandria.

Meanwhile, Copts in Canada have hired private security contractors to protect churchgoers during this week's Christmas period, the national association said Monday.

Canada has an estimated 255,000 Copts, mainly in Toronto where there are 14 Coptic churches, but also in Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver, where police patrols are also likely to be stepped up for midnight masses on Thursday.

"The churches are going to conduct ceremonies with no problem, it's going to be the same as usual. However, the security will be tightened up around the buildings," Canadian Coptic Association spokesman Sherif Mansour told AFP.

"The people who are going to enter (the churches) will be only people known by the community, and we have hired a private security company to be within the churches perimeters," Mansour said.

Canada's Coptic community was already on high alert after the names and addresses of 100 Copts, along with photographs, were published on an Islamist website in December.

"Everybody is now worried of going to church but we won't stop," Mishriky Guindi, whose name appeared on the website, told AFP.

Mansour said a new wave of Copts was immigrating to places like Australia and Canada because of the violence they are subjected to in the Middle East.

"We are seeing a new trend of young professionals that are leaving with their families," he said.

Copts, who celebrate Christmas on 7 January, make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 80-million population and often complain of discrimination.

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