Copts Grapple with Cause of Fire at Church in Egypt

Many in congregation doubt investigators’ hasty declaration of electrical mishap.

ISTANBUL, September 18 (CDN) — The congregation of a Coptic church that was destroyed by fire last week is divided over whether it was a case of arson.

At 3 p.m. on Sept. 8, a fire broke out in the rear of the Church of Saint Paul and Saint Peter near the main entrance of the building. Located in the town of Shebin al-Kom some 37 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Cairo, the church building along with its icons, relics and most of its furniture was destroyed.

According to local media reports, investigators said the cause of the fire was electrical. A sizable portion of the congregation, however, disputes this.

Gamal Gerges, a local reporter who works for the newspaper Al-Youm al-Sabeh, said police have no proof that the fire was accidental.

“The police say it is an electric fire – the police say it is no criminal act,” Gerges said. “The police did not have evidence, but said what they did to avoid strife between the Christians and the Muslims.”

The priest of the church has declined to comment publicly on the cause of the fire, other than repeating what investigators have said. He said he is waiting for the official report to determine the cause of the fire.

One member of the congregation, a 25-year-old woman, is not so quiet. The woman, whose name has been withheld for her protection, said that the electrical system in the church was largely unscathed by the fire. She said the damage did not radiate from the church’s fuse box.

She said she believes the fire was set intentionally but did not suggest any possible culprits.

Through an interpreter, the Rev. Antonious Wagih told Compass that relations between the Coptic and Muslim communities in the area are amicable. Media reports indicate, however, that prior to the fire local Muslims were harassing priests, and that people who lived around the church dumped dirty water on the congregants from balconies. Other reports state that local women cheered after the church burned down.

Reasons for the discrepancies between Wagih’s statements and media reports were unclear. Wagih told Compass that he “did not want to [get] into a struggle or argument with the authorities.” He added that he wanted to “avoid any dispute in this area.”

Roughly 400 families attend Saint Paul and Saint Peter. The woman who claimed the fire was arson said many congregants shared her view. Other church members were not immediately available, but other media reports also indicated that she was not alone in her opinion.

No one was injured in the fire. At press time there was no monetary estimate of damages.

The Coptic community of Shebin al-Kom used the Church of Saint Paul and Saint Peter for three years after they purchased the building from a group of Roman Catholics with a dwindling congregation.

The Shebin al-Kom fire was one of a spate of incidences reported by Coptic leaders during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

Report from Compass Direct News 


At least three Pakistani Christian men, who were protesting against pro Taliban and Al-Qaeda slogans written on their local churches, have been injured in a gun battle between law enforcement agencies and Pashto-speaking suspected militant Muslims on Wednesday (April 22, 2009) afternoon, reports Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan, special to ASSIST News Service.

Pashto language is spoken by people in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan and also by the residents of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Christian residents of Taseer Town awoke on Wednesday morning to discover the slogans, “Taliban Zindabad” (Long-Live the Taliban) and “Al-Qaeda Zindabad” (Long Live Al-Qaeda), which are thought to be have been posted by some unidentified people, on the walls of different churches in their town located in Sector 35 Lyari, in the port city of Karachi.

They were so upset that some of them set ablaze tires and blocked the roads, bringing the traffic in the area to a standstill.

Heavy contingents of rangers and police rushed to the scene to disperse the protesting Christians.

Michael Javaid, a former member of the Sindh Provincial Assembly, spoke to ANS from tension-ridden area of Taseer Town apprised ANS that three Christians were injured as firing broke out between law enforcement agencies’ officials and militants at 11:30 am Pakistan time on Wednesday.

He alleged that the police opened fire on protesting Christians instead of protecting them. The injured were taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital in Karachi.

One of the injured, Imran Masih, received a bullet to his head and was rush to the hospital where his condition is said to be “critical.” The other two injured Christian men were later identified as Qudus Masih and Irfan Masih.

ANS has discovered that Qudus received an injury to his arm. Javaid, who visited the injured in the hospital, said the medics had plastered Qudus arm. He apprehended that the Christian man would have arm-disability all his life.

Three houses of Christians in the Taseer Town have also been burned. ANS could not ascertain what caused fire.

Javaid told ANS the police “manhandled protesting Christian men and women,” adding that the police removed the Christian women from the protest site by “pulling them from their hair.”

He claimed suspected militants also forced their entry into a church in the area and “desecrated Bibles.”

Javaid said he witnessed rangers removing slogans in favour of Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda from the walls of churches.

Asked if the police have registered First Information Report (FIR) against assailants, Michael said the police have instead arrested two Christian men and four workers of Pakistan Peoples Party, who he said had come to express their solidarity with the Christians from their nearby office.

Recent attack on Christians and churches by Islamists comes about three months as two churches in Karachi were attacked on New Year’s Eve.

The incident has sparked fear and uncertainty among the Christian residents of Karachi. The tense situation has prompted several Christian women to flee their homes.

Asked if this was beginning of the “Talibanization of Karachi,” he said that a sizable number of Taliban had entered the city “in an attempt to press their demands of enforcing Sharia Justice System in the Sindh Province.

He termed the sketching of walls of churches in Karachi with slogans backing Taliban and Al-Qaeda as a “conspiracy” to slap Sharia Justice System on Pakistani Christians.

When ANS drew his attention to Taliban’s taking control of Buner district which is only 96 kilometers (60 miles) from capital Islamabad, he said they (Taliban) were bent upon enforcing Sharia Justice System across Pakistan.

He pointed out that the Taliban in Orakzai, located at border of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, had already started demanding Jaziya (Minority tax) from Sikhs there.

“I fear the Taliban will start demanding minority tax from Pakistani Christians too,” he said.

He added: “Christians are not a ‘conquered community.’ They are not supposed to pay any minority tax.”

Javaid appealed to Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, to ensure protection of the lives and properties of Pakistani Christians

Report from the Christian Telegraph