Muslims Attack Coptic Christian Church in Egypt; Destroy Sacred Objects and Assault Worshippers

Dec 27, 2017 10:15 AM EST

Hundreds of Muslim demonstrators assaulted a Coptic Christian church south of Cairo, calling for it to be demolished, wrecking sacred objects and attacking worshippers.

The incident took place after Friday prayers when demonstrators gathered outside the building, changting hostile slogans and called for the church's demolition, the diocese in Atfih told the AP.

In addition to destroying the church's contents, the Muslims assaulted Christians inside before security personnel arrived and dispersed them. The wounded were later transferred to a nearby hospital.

A media coordinator at the diocese, the Rev. Yehnes Youssef, said later on Saturday that three Copts were wounded but have been treated. So far, authorities have detained 15 people.

According to ABC, the church in Giza is yet to be sanctioned by the state -- even though it has been observing prayers for 15 years. The diocese said it had officially sought to legalize the building's status under a 2016 law that laid down the rules for building churches, sparking the protests.

While building a mosque results in very few restrictions, the harsh rules imposed on Christian places of worship has prompted Christians to illegally build churches or set up churches in other buildings.

Egypt's Coptic Christian minority -- who date back to the first decades following the life of Jesus Christ -- comprises about 10 percent of the country's population of 93 million people. For the past few years, the group has been targeted by jihadist militants, and ISIS previously vowed to keep making Coptic Christians a main target for their attacks. Earlier this year, ISIS warned Christians living in Egypt that they will pay for their faith with "a river of blood from their sons".

On Palm Sunday, twin suicide bombings killed 47 people and injured 126 others at churches in Tanta and Alexandria. In December 2016, 29 were killed and 47 were injured when a suicide bomber attacked St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in Cairo.

Ishaq Ibrahim, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told The Times that at least 115 Christians had been killed in suicide bombings and shoot-outs claimed by Muslim extremists since December of last year.

"The government is trying to deal with this by restricting the movement of Christians themselves. They are not solving the root problem," Mr Ibrahim said.

Egypt is ranked 21st on Open Doors USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution, and has received the maximum score in the violence category.