Witnesses: Church used by Egyptian Christians torched in eastern
By Associated Press,
Flames were seen rising from the church, witnesses said. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning what it described as “assault,” and that the church’s priest was not inside and is unhurt.
Abdel-Salam al-Barghathi, a security official in
said his forces stopped angry men from doing more damage to the church. He says
they were angry about a protest by Christians in front of the Libyan embassy in
Benghazi , where they set fire to the
Libyan flag. Cairo
The protests came after death of one Egyptian Christian detainee in
whose family says he died of torture. They say Ezzat Atallah, who died in
detention in Libya after being
transferred from his prison in Tripoli ,
was one of around 100 Christians, mostly Egyptians, who were detained by
militias on suspicion of trying to covert Muslims to Christianity. Benghazi
Al-Barghathi appeared to blame the Christian protesters for the violence. He said Atallah died of natural causes and that he confessed before his death. “I got everything taped. He confessed and we videotaped his confessions. Why do the Christians burn the flag and replace it with a cross?” he said.
“These incidents will take place once and twice if the reactions on the other side continue like this,” he warned.
On Sept. 11, four Americans including the U.S. Ambassador in Libya Chris Stevens were killed in an assault on the
mission in U.S. . An Islamist
extremist militia that had been handling some security duties in the city,
Ansar al-Shariah, was blamed for the attack. Months later, several Western
countries withdrew their nationals from Benghazi
citing imminent threats. Benghazi
Churches, shrines used by traditionalist Muslims, and a Commonwealth war cemetery have also been vandalized in
and other cities in attacks blamed on hard-line Islamist puritans. Benghazi
Foreign Ministry intervened to win the release of 55 Egyptians who were in the
group suspected of proselytizing. Thirty-five of them were deported for illegally
entering the country, while 20 were cleared to stay in Egypt . Libya
Four foreigners under investigation for alleged espionage and proselytizing remain in a Libyan prison. They are a Swedish-American, a South Korean, a South African and an Egyptian.
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Government condemns attack on
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has condemned an attack on Thursday on the Egyptian Coptic church in
in which the priest and
his assistant were assaulted. Benghazi
In a statement today, Sunday, the Ministry voiced its concern at what had happened and expressed regret, saying that the attack was “contrary to the teachings of our Islamic faith and customs and as well as international covenants on human rights and fundamental freedoms and respect for the monotheistic religions”.
The attack followed the arrest earlier in the week of a number of Copts, variously put at between 50 and 100, who were accused being Christian missionaries. Following the intervention of the Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr Kamel and the Egyptian embassy in
they have now been deported. Charges of proselytism have been dropped. Tripoli
There have been concerns about possible Christian missionary activity in
reports that four Protestant Christians were arrested in the city on 13
February accused of proselytizing. One of them was also said to be an Egyptian,
although it is extremely unusual for Protestants and Copts to have any links
The Copts were arrested in
Suq Al-Jareed area and accused of being missionaries after they were reportedly
found in position of bibles and other Christian literature. According to the
police, the arrests followed a row
at the market. Other Egyptians working there, accused a group of Copts of
trying to take over control of it. One of the complaints was that the latter
were renting space at the market for LD 1,000 a month and then subletting it
for LD 2,000. Benghazi
Following the complaints, the police say that after they arrested the Copts they found books in a “storage place” which were covered on the outside so as not be identified as Christian. These books, they said, the Copts denied owning.
A display of the books went on show last week at a Katiba building in
not run by the
Insisting that they had nothing against Christianity and that they respected all religions, the Libyan police said that the group’s behaviour aroused their suspicions, including, reportedly, the fact that all had crosses tattooed on their wrists.
All Copts have crosses tattooed on their wrists.
On questioning, the police say, the traders disclosed the names of other Copts whom they knew, resulting in the arrest of around 100 in all. The police said they were found without passports or any identity documents and that it was not clear how they entered the country.
Following Egyptian embassy complaints about the treatment of the men, the Interior Ministry took control of the Copts, holding them in prison pending their expulsion on charges of entering the country illegally.
There been claims, however, reported in the online edition of the Egyptian daily Al Ahram, that the Copts were absued. The paper reported a Coptic Church source in
claiming that “the detained Copts had been tortured by their captors, who had
also shaved their heads and used acid to burn off the crosses tattooed on their
Photos show the men with shaved heads, but no sign of anything else.
The Church source had also claimed that the men had been arrested after “a group of Salafist Muslims” attacked a Coptic church in
However, all the indications are that the attack on the church took place after
the arrests, not before. Benghazi
According to today’s Foreign Ministry statement, a committee of enquiry comprising itself, the Interior Ministry, the General Staff and the Intelligence Service and headed by the Ministry of Justice has been set up to investigate the attack on the church. In the meantime, it said the government would be providing security to the building.
The Ministry statement also called on “all Libyan citizens to respect those from friendly and sister countries living in
and to respect their beliefs”. Libya
On 30 December, two members of the Coptic church in Misrata died when the building was bombed. The culprits have not yet been found.