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Egypt: seven killed outside church after Coptic Christmas service

Seven people were shot dead early this morning in an incident outside a church in southern Egypt where parishioners were leaving a midnight Christmas Eve service. The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 7th January.

Two vehicles approached the Coptic church in the  Nile community of Naga Hammadi City, 40 miles (64km) from Luxor, as worshippers were leaving a Christmas Eve midnight service. Gunfire was sprayed into the crowd. Seven people were killed, six Christians and a Muslim security guard. Ten others were injured, including two Muslim passers-by.

Later this morning fighting broke out when police tried to disperse a large crowd of Christians gathered outside the local hospital. There are reports of shots having been fired into the air and of at least two people being injured.

The authorities believe that the attack was intended as retaliation for the alleged rape of a young Muslim girl by a Christian man in November that triggered five days of widespread sectarian violence in the area. If this link is confirmed, Egyptian Human Rights activists will expect the police investigation into the shootings should also consider possible negligence on the part of the Interior Ministry for not doing more to prevent such an attack.

Over the past year Christians in Egypt have suffered what appears to be an increasing number of attacks.

Elswhere in the Middle East,  on 24 December, the  Western Christmas Eve, a church in Mosul, Iraq was bombed.  According to published reports, two Christians were killed in that attack, and five were injured.