Unknown assailants attacked the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo’s Abbasiya district on Sunday as hundreds of mourners held a funeral for victims of Saturday’s sectarian clashes in the capital’s Qalioubiya governorate. At least one was killed in the melee.
The Head of the Egyptian Ambulance Organisation, Mohamed Sultan, announced that one person had been killed after having been struck by birdshot outside Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral. The identity of the deceased is yet to be revealed.
As of 6pm, the health ministry said that the injury toll had reached 29, at least two of which were in critical condition.
Moheb Fanous, director of a nearby Coptic hospital in which the injured are being treated, told Al-Ahram’s Arabic-language news website that Beshoy Wasfy, a 20-year-old journalist for independent daily Al-Shorouk, had sustained “critical injuries” to his neck after having been hit with birdshot.
Wasfy is currently in intensive care, said Fanous, who added that university student Nader Samy was also in critical condition after having been shot through the lungs.
After being pelted with stones, mourners at the cathedral responded by throwing stones back. Gunshots were heard during the subsequent clashes; some eyewitnesses confirmed that assailants used firearms.
Witnesses at the scene confirmed that teargas canisters had landed inside the cathedral’s precincts. Other eyewitnesses said that unknown assailants dressed in plainclothes were hurling Molotov cocktails towards the cathedral.
A host of young assailants were seen on top of a nearby building throwing rocks at the cathedral.
Security forces, meanwhile, attempted to form a human shield across the street leading to the cathedral.
The precincts of the cathedral were completely emptied of people, excluding police forces, after nearly six hours of clashes.
Hundreds of mourners had turned out for the funeral on Sunday for those killed in Saturday’s sectarian clashes in Qalioubiya governorate.
On Saturday, five people were shot to death – and at least eight injured – in Qalioubiya’s Al-Khosous town. Four Christians and one Muslim were killed in the violence, Egypt’s health ministry reported.
A Coptic priest, however, told the private CBC satellite channel on Sunday that six Copts had died and many more had been injured.
In Sunday’s funeral mass at the cathedral before violence erupted, coffins were surrounded by crosses and roses. Coptic Bishop Rafael performed prayers over the bodies of the slain.
Sobbing could be heard during the prayers, one Ahram Online journalist reported.
Soon after the prayers ended, funeral attendees began chanting angrily: “Leave, leave!” in reference to President Mohamed Morsi, and “Down with the rule of the [Muslim Brotherhood] supreme guide.”
Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president last summer. Critics argue the Brotherhood is the actual ruling body.
A protest march was scheduled to set off at noon from Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya, following the Sunday mass.
Saturday’s sectarian clashes in Qalioubiya broke out after a group of Christian teenagers reportedly painted offensive drawings on the gates of Egypt’s Al-Azhar building, state news agency MENA reported.
The situation escalated further when someone fired a gun into the air, killing a young boy with a stray bullet, Reuters reported.
In the aftermath of the violence, 15 people were arrested and the area was cordoned off by police forces.
A number of Christian-owned shops were reportedly smashed by angry protesters. Reuters stated that some Christian and Muslim properties had been torched.
The violent attacks have sparked widespread condemnation by rights groups and politicians.
Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb called for the adoption of measures to prevent the situation from escalating further and to “preserve the national character of the Egyptian people, Muslims and Christians alike,” MENA reported.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party on Saturday declared in a statement that the party was “sorry for the victims of these unfortunate clashes, regardless of their religion.”
It called on authorities to “reveal the plots [aimed at sowing strife between different Egyptian groups], punish the perpetrators and curtail the threat.”