A POLICEMAN shot dead a Christian on a train in Egypt Tuesday and wounded five other people, including the man’s wife, as tensions remain high after a New Year’s church bombing killed 21 people, the interior ministry said.
The shooter’s motives were not immediately clear, but the ministry said at least four of the five people hurt were Coptic Christians.
And a Coptic bishop told AFP that the gunman, named by the ministry as Amer Ashur Abdel Zaher, had sought out Christians on board the train and shouted a Muslim slogan – Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) – as he opened fire.
The policeman, who was said to be on his way to work, boarded a stationary Cairo-bound train at Samalut, in the southern Minya province, and began shooting with his service weapon, the ministry said.
He killed Fathi Said Ebeid, aged 71, and wounded his 61-year-old wife.
Two of the others wounded were said to be in critical condition.
The policeman, who was not in uniform, got off the train after the attack and tried to flee but was arrested inside the station.
He was being questioned by the authorities to find out if he carried out the attack for religious reasons.
Bishop Morcos, who serves with the Coptic church in Samalut, said he had spoken to witnesses after the shooting.
“This lunatic went up and down the coach looking for Christians,” the bishop recounted what he was told.
“Seeing a group of girls and women who were not wearing the (Islamic) veil, he took them for Christians and fired, shouting Allahu Akbar.”
Later, witnesses said hundreds of Copts rallied outside Salamut’s Good Shepherd hospital, where the wounded had been taken, and clashed with police, who fired tear gas at them.
The attack comes after the deadly New Year’s bombing in the northern city of Alexandria that drew international condemnation.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for that attack, which came after threats to Egypt’s Copts from the Al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq that claimed a deadly October 31 attack on a Baghdad cathedral.
The group, the Islamic State of Iraq, said it would attack Copts if their church failed to release two women the group claimed were being held against their will after converting to Islam.
President Hosni Mubarak has blamed “foreign hands” as being behind the incident, and authorities said a suicide bomber was responsible.
Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population of 80 million people, have been targets of sectarian attacks in the past and complain of discrimination.
Egypt has been under tight security since the Alexandria bombing, and the measures were stepped up for Coptic Christmas Eve services on Thursday.
The New Year’s Day bombing caused indignation around the world and prompted Pope Benedict XVI to express repeatedly his solidarity with the Copts and Christian across the Middle East.
But his remarks — namely his call on world leaders to protect Egypt’s Copts — hit a raw nerve in Cairo where the foreign ministry on Tuesday announced it was recalling its Vatican envoy for consultations.
The action follows “new statements from the Vatican concerning Egypt which are considered by Egypt as unacceptable interference in its internal affairs,” the foreign ministry spokesman said.
“Egypt will not allow any non-Egyptian faction to interfere in its internal affairs under any pretext,” the statement said. “The Coptic question is specifically an internal Egyptian affair.”
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi quoted Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti as saying during a meeting with the recalled ambassador that the church “completely shares the (Egyptian) government’s concern with ‘avoiding an escalation of clashes and religious tensions,’ and appreciates its efforts in this direction.”
A day after the Alexandria attack, the pope appealed for the “concrete and constant engagement of leaders of nations,” in what he termed a “difficult mission.”
At his New Year’s Day mass, Benedict underscored that “humanity cannot display resignation in the face of negative forces of selfishness and violence, it cannot get accustomed to conflicts which claim victims and endanger the future of people.”
Then on Monday the pope said the attack was “yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt… effective measures for the protection of religious minorities”.
Daily Telegraph 12/1/2011