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'Horrible': Christian churches throughout Egypt stormed, torched

By Sarah Sirgany and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 10:14 PM EDT, Thu August 15, 2013
(Retrieved from CNN on August 15, 2013)

Kafr Hakim, Egypt (CNN) -- For 67 years, the Virgin Mary Church has been a peaceful refuge for Shenouda El Sayeh, much like the Giza province village of Hafr Hakim where it rests and where he has lived all those years.

But, as he swept its floors on Thursday, it was painfully obvious things had changed.

The night before, a mob -- chanting against Coptic Christians such as El Sayeh and calling for Egypt to become an "Islamic state" -- had torched and looted the Virgin Mary Church.

"I didn't expect this to happen," El Sayeh said.

He's not alone. Christians all around Egypt are cleaning up in the aftermath of a spate of attacks, which not coincidentally came on the county's deadliest day since the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said he was told by colleagues in Egypt that 52 churches were attacked in a 24-hour span that started Wednesday, as well as numerous Christians' homes and businesses.

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told CNN he had confirmed attacks on at least 30 churches so far, in addition to the targeting of church-related facilities, including schools and cultural centers.

Those churches reportedly set ablaze Wednesday included St. George Church in Sohag, a city south of Cairo on the Nile River.

And the new day brought new attacks. Prince Tadros Church in Fayoum, which is southwest of Cairo, was stormed and burned Thursday night, according to the official Middle East News Agency.

This and other attacks have been blamed by some on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group once led by more recently deposed President Mohamed Morsy. They, too, have reportedly been caught up in the violence: Egypt's health ministry says that at least 580 people were killed and more than 4,000 injured amidst clashes involving security forces and Morsy supporters.

What group, if any, is behind the church attacks, and how coordinated this violence has been might not been be sorted out definitely for some time.

Until then, Christians in Egypt are left to try to put things back together, as well as to try to make sense of what's transpired.

As Dalia Ziada of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies told CNN: "This is horrible to happen in only one day."

'A very dangerous game to play'

Egypt will have much to deal with if, and when, things do settle down. Should that happen, Angaelos says that a proper investigation of the church attacks should be part of that -- especially since, he feels, the sheer scale of incidents suggests they were orchestrated, rather than a byproduct of chaotic unrest.

"We would want the people who have done it to be brought to justice because I think they are trying to do something which is much more dangerous," he said.

"It's not just about burning churches, it's about burning churches to initiate a response that then spirals into even greater violence -- and that is a very, very dangerous game to play."

The targeting of churches and Christian properties was not unexpected, Angaelos said, given the tensions in Cairo and elsewhere and in light of escalating attacks on Coptic Christians in recent weeks.

The growing threat led him last week to issue a statement warning of "a very real risk upon the life of every Christian." Pope Tawadros II, the church's leader in Egypt, also suspended weekly public events for fear of attacks on Christian congregations.

But the warnings didn't prevent the violence, nor did security efforts to protect churches and Christian communities, according to Ibrahim.

Said Angaelos, "The ferocity and the speed with which it all happened... was quite surprising."

Burning of books

A Bible Society of Egypt statement posted online Wednesday reported the "complete burning and destruction" of its bookshops in the cities of Assiut and Minia, in southern Egypt.

"Fortunately we were closed today, fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured," said the statement by Ramez Atallah, the society's general director. "The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire."

Other stores and parked cars on those streets were also destroyed, he wrote.

"It is important to underline that -- while some Christian properties have been the victim of this violence -- they are by no means the only ones targeted," Atallah said.

"This is an attack against the state by a violent minority in an attempt to destabilize the nation."

CNN iReporter Amir Beshay, from Cairo, helped draw up a list of Christian churches and properties reportedly targeted.

On it are sites in Alexandria, Arish, Assiut, Beni Suef, Cairo, Fayoum, Gharbiya, Giza, Minya, Qena, Sohag and Suez. They include churches and schools, as well as homes and businesses belonging to Coptic Christians. CNN has not been able independently to verify the reports.

Asked about the attacks on churches Wednesday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States was deeply concerned. "We will continue speaking out against this and continue talking to all parties and all sides about renouncing this violence, about moving forward with a democratic process."

Daniel Sinclair, director of communications at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the group was "deeply concerned at the unwarranted and continuing targeting of the Coptic community. We urge the government to ensure comprehensive security to all Egyptians, regardless of their religion."

Long history in Egypt

Egypt's Christian minority has been the target of a number of attacks in recent years. The bombing of a major church in Alexandria in January 2011 killed 21 people and sparked worldwide condemnation.

The situation has only gotten worse since Egypt's popular revolution overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, said Angaelos.

"In the past two-and-a-half years, we've had more deaths of people just because they are Christians than in the last 20 years," he said, adding that this had not triggered violent retaliation.

He hopes for forgiveness and reconciliation among all Egyptians going forward, to help build a unified country.

Christians have been in Egypt since the 1st century and were, for centuries, the majority. Some 90% of Coptic Christians still live in the country, he said, making up the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

Angaelos puts the proportion of Christians in Egypt at 15 to 20% of the population.

The CIA World Factbook says 10% of Egypt's population is Christian, while the Pew Research Center, which says firm numbers are hard to come by, puts the figure at about 5%.

The Coptic church also has adherents in Europe, Canada, the United States, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.

Father Boktor Saad, of Kafr Hakim's Virgin Mary Church, said he believes that a small group of extremists were responsible for inciting groups to attack his church.

But not everyone participated, and some non-Christians prevented the situation in that village from getting worse, church staff said. They credited moderate Muslims with putting out the fire at Virgin Mary, and further halting attacks on Coptic Christians' homes and shops.



This has been put together as aggregated information that was shared online about attacks on churches and their institutions, Christians and their homes, and other relevant information. We started collecting information on August 14 and not before but are adding anything after.

The list has been compiled and managed by Mai El-SadanyAmir Beshay, and myself, Amira Mikhail.

Many people have participated  in supplying links, information, and tweets. We appreciate their contributions and encourage continued and joint efforts to properly document these attacks.

Please note that this is a work-in-progress and is being updated on a regular basis. Information so far isunverified although most is backed up with tweets and photos. We are hoping to continue the efforts to verify details. If you have any corrections or updates to church names, photos, or details, please reach out to or my twitter.

A similar project is Into Oblivion by @moftasa and @MaliciaRogue.



  1. Father Maximus Church | Attempted attack (stones thrown)
  2. St George Church  | Bakos | Attempted attack (launching shots)


  1. St George Church | Burned | Source


  1. Good Shepherds Monastery |  Nuns attacked
  2. Angel Michael Church | Surrounded
  3. St George Coptic Orthodox Church | PhotoPhotoPhotoYouTube
  4. Al-Eslah Church| Burned | Source
  5. Adventist Church | Pastor and his wife not kidnapped, were able to escape | PhotoAdventist News Network
  6. St Therese Church | PhotoVideo
  7. Apostles Church | Burning | Source
  8. Holy Revival Church | Burning | Source
  9. Qusiya Diocese | MCN
  10. St John’s Church | Abnoub | Burning
  11. Coptic Orthodox Diocese | Abu Tig | Sieged
  12. St John Diocese | Qusiya | Attempted attack (stones)

Beni Suef

  1. The Nuns School | Photo
  2. St George Church | al-Wasta


  1. St Fatima Basilica | Heliopolis | Attempted Attack
  2. Virgin Mary’s Church | Hakim Village | Burned | Photo

Fayoum (Five churches)

  1. St Mary Church | El Nazlah | Gallery
  2. St Damiana Church | Robbed and burned
  3. Amir Tawadros (St Theodore) Church | EgyNews (Arabic), Twitter
  4. Evangelical Church | al-Zorby Village | Looting and destruction
  5. Church of Joseph | Burned | Source
  6. Franciscan School | Burned | Source


  1. Diocese of St Paul | Burned | Source


  1. Father Antonios
  2. Atfeeh Diocese/Bishoperic | Looted
  3. Church Archangel Michael | Kerdasa | Burned
  4. Church of the Virgin Mary | Sieged

Minya (Around twelve churches)

  1. Church of the Virgin Mary and Father Abram | Delga, Deir Mawas | SourcePhoto
  2. St Mina Church | Abu Hilal Kebly, Beni Hilal | Sourcephoto
  3. Baptist Church | Beni Mazar | Source
  4. Monastery | Deir Mawas  | Ahram (Arabic)
  5. Delga Church | Attacked (Previously attacked with fire)
  6. The Jesuit Fathers Church | Abu Hilal district
  7. St Mark Church | Abu Hilal district
  8. St Joseph Nunnery | Photophoto
  9. Amir Tadros Church | Photophotophotoalbumphotophoto
  10. Evangelical Church | Photo
  11. Anba Moussa al-Aswad Church | Photo
  12. Apostles Church | Source
  13. Salvation of the Souls Church | Burning | Unverified
  14. St John’s Church | Burning| Unverified
  15. Coptic Secondary School for Boys | Burning | Unverified
  16. Soldiers of Christ Shelter | Burning | Unverified
  17. Diocese of Mallawi  | Attempted attack (launching shots, molotovs, and stones) | Unverified


  1. St Mary’s Church | Attempted Burning


  1. St George Church |Photo albumphotophotovideosourcesourcevideo
  2. St Damiana | Attacked and burned | Source
  3. Virgin Mary | Attacked and burned | Source
  4. St Mark Church & Community Center
  5. Anba Abram Church | Destroyed and burned | Source


  1. St Saviours Anglican Church | Source
  2. Franciscan Church and School | Street 23 | Burned |Photophotosource/photosphotos
  3. Holy Shepherd Monastery and Hospital | Photo
  4. Good Shepherd Church (molotov cocktail thrown)- Relationship with Holy Shepherd Monastery unknown.
  5. Greek Orthodox Church | PhotoPhoto

Christian Institutions

  • House of Father Angelos (Pastor of Church of the Virgin Mary and Father Abram) | Delga, Minya | Burned | CBN NewsAhram (Arabic)
  • Properties and Markets of Copts | al-Gomhorreya Street, Assiut
  • Seventeen Coptic homes | Delga, Minya | Burned | SourceSource
  • YMCA | Minya| Burned | Photo
  • Coptic Homes | Qulta Street, Assiut | Attacked
  • Offices of the Evangelical Foundation & Oum al-Nour | Minya
  • Coptic-owned shops, pharmacy, and hotels | Karnak and Cleopatra Streets, Luxor | Attacked and Looted
  • Dahabeya Nile Boat | Minya| Church-owned | Source, PhotoPhoto
  • Bible Society bookshop | Cairo | Burned | Photo
  • Bible Society | Fayoum | Photo
  • Bible Society | al-Gomohoreya Street, Assiut | PhotoPhoto
  • Ezbet el Nekhl | Sourcesourcesource (Arabic)


Deaths and Injuries

  • Iskandar Tos, Barber, 60-year-old | Dead | Ahram (Arabic)
  • Ramy Zakaria | Alexandria | Dead | Twitter (Arabic)
  • Abanoub 14-year-old| Beni Maza, Minya | Injured | Twitter
  • Mina Rafat Aziz | Killed today as he drove by pro-Morsi protest in a cab with cross hanging inside.

Reactions and Statements

  • Muslim Brotherhood in Helwan: (Summary) Based off of the actions of Pope Tawadros and Christians in Egypt, they deserve these attacks on churches and their institutions. “For every action, a reaction.” FJP Helwan Facebook (Arabic)
  • Gehad al-Haddad: “We condemn all attacks on houses of worships and condemn police treachery in leaving thugs to vandalize while focusing on killing protesters.” (Twitter)
  • Mohamed Saad al-Azhary (former member of the constituent assembly 2012): (Translation) “I strongly condemn the burning of churches for two reasons. 1) Whoever does this ruins the image of the protesters. 2)  Who in their right mind would burn waste?” Facebook (Arabic)
  • Father Makarios, priest in Minya | “We called and the police did not come.” | Christian-Dogma (Video)


In Egyptian village, Christian shops marked ahead of church attack

The Saint Virgin Mary Church in Al Nazla is one of 47 churches and monasteries that have been burned, robbed, or attacked in a new wave of violence against Christians in Egypt.

by Kristen Chick

(Retrieved on August 18, 2013 from Christian Science Monitor)


Before the violence that shook this small village last week, there were warning signs.

On June 30, when millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest against now ousted President Mohamed Morsi, residents of Al Nazla marked Christian homes and shops with red graffiti, vowing to protect Morsi's electoral legitimacy with “blood.”

Relations between Christians and Muslims in the village, which had worsened since Morsi's election in 2012, grew even more tense as Islamists spread rumors that it was Christians who were behind the protests against Morsi and his ouster by the military on July 3.

Finally, on the morning of Aug. 14, the tension erupted. In Cairo, the police attacked two protest camps full of Morsi supporters, using live ammunition and killing hundreds. When the news reached Al Nazla, a local mosque broadcast through its loudspeakers that Christians were attacking the protesters, say residents. Hundreds of villagers marched on the Saint Virgin Mary Church. They broke down the gate and flooded the compound, shouting “Allahu akbar” and “Islam is the solution,” according to Christian neighbors.

“First they stole the valuable things, and then they torched the place,” says Sami Awad, a church member who lives across the narrow dirt alley from the church. “Whatever they couldn't carry, they burned.”

The Coptic Orthodox church had just opened in April after 13 years of construction, in a country where the government strictly curtails building permits for churches. Now, its elaborate dome stands above a ruined, charred interior. The walls are blackened and rubble litters the floor. A picture of Jesus is half burned, the charred edges curling where they were licked by flames.

“The religion of God is Islam,” reads graffiti sprayed in yellow on a wall of the church. Three burned out cars, one of them upside down, rest in the courtyard. Next to the gate, sprayed in black, is another phrase: “Victory or martyrdom.”

The Saint Virgin Mary church in Al Nazla is one of 47 churches and monasteries that have been burned, robbed, or attacked since Aug. 14 in a wave of violence against Christians since the brutal police crackdown on the former president's supporters, according to Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He adds that dozens of Christian schools, other religious buildings, homes and shops have also been attacked and burned, and seven Christians killed. Police have done little to stop the attacks.

The victims say the attackers are Morsi supporters angered by the deaths in Cairo, and spurred on by Islamist rhetoric blaming Christians for Morsi's ouster. The attacks are a realization of the long-held fears of many Christians and have prompted deep worry about widening religious violence in Egypt.


Al Nazla – about 60 miles southwest of Cairo near the oasis of Fayoum – is a small village that looks like many other rural Egyptian towns. Narrow and pitted dirt roads winding between brick buildings are clogged by three-wheeled tok-toks, animals, and villagers on foot. The red graffiti marking Christian homes and shops is still visible. “Yes to legitimacy, no to Sisi” reads the message scrawled on one shop, referring to Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who ousted Morsi.

The Saint Virgin Mary church's dome is visible from outside the village, but difficult to see once inside the tangle of alleyways. Inside the church compound, Mr. Awad and other church members described the shock of seeing their neighbors and acquaintances among the angry mob sacking the church.

Relations between Christians and Muslims in the village used to be good, says Awad, who makes his living selling poultry. “We were neighbors and friends, we did business together and talked together. However, when they had to choose between religion and us, they chose religion.” He declined to identify those who attacked the church. 

Ezzat Labib, who manages the church's administration, says things started changing after Morsi was elected last year. “Relationships started becoming more cautious,” he says. “By June 30, it started getting much more tense, because of the accusations that June 30 was controlled and ignited by Copts, even though on the 30th , all people were protesting, Muslims and Christians.”

Islamist figures and websites had accused anti-Morsi protests of being mostly Christian as far back as December. When the mass protests that appeared on June 30 presented an emphatic rejection of Morsi's year-long presidency, some accused Christians of organizing the protests and making up the bulk of the demonstrators. Such statements only increased when Pope Tawadros II, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, stood next to General Sisi, with other religious and political leaders, when the army general announced Morsi's ouster.

At the camp of Morsi supporters near Cairo's Rabaa El Adawiya square, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, some speakers on the protests's stage railed against Christians and their “betrayal” of Egypt. Attacks against Christians spread throughout Egypt, particularly in southern Egypt where the Christian population is large and sectarian violence common. On August 7, 16 Egyptian rights organizations condemned the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies for using rhetoric that included “clear incitement to violence and religious hatred in order to achieve political gains.” The groups also condemned the government and security forces for failing to protect against sectarian attacks or hold accountable those responsible.


On the morning of the attack in Al Nazla, says Awad, a local mosque broadcast a message around 9 am. “Your brothers in Rabaa El Adawiya are being killed by Jews and Christians,” the loudspeakers boomed, according to Awad and other Christian residents. The crowds attacked the police station before attacking the church, say residents, possibly part of the reason the police did nothing to stop the attack that lasted from around 9:30 am until 7 pm. The attackers even brought trucks to carry away their loot. The police guards that had been posted outside the church walked away when the angry crowds approached, say neighbors. One fire truck that tried to approach the church was repelled by the crowd, and the police never came.

Some Muslim neighbors tried to help put out the fire raging in the church, including Magdy Shaaban. They also successfully protected against attempts to break into or set fire to Christian homes and shops, but near the church, “there were so many attackers, we couldn't stand against them,” he says.

As the Muslim call to prayer rang out near a monastery that was also looted and torched, Mr. Shaaban says villagers were angered by the Coptic pope's support for the military and Morsi's ouster. The attacks occurred when villagers attempting to join the Morsi supporters in Cairo found the roads closed, and turned back to attack the police station and the churches instead, he says. “They went to take revenge on the Christians.”

Shaaban voted for Morsi, and went to Rabaa el Adawiya several times to join the protest against his ouster. He said the attackers were not Muslim Brotherhood members, but “angry people.” He condemned the violence, and helped his neighbors, even allowing two Christian families to sleep at his house after the attacks, because “it's my duty to protect my neighbors.”


Similar attacks occurred across the country. In Sohag, a large church was burned and a guard outside a church shot. Attackers stopped a Christian couple, asked for their national identity cards, which list citizens' religion, and then shot the two, says Mr. Ibrahim. The husband was killed, and the wife injured. In Minya and Assiut, multiple churches and dozens of Christian properties were attacked and burned. In many places, police stations were also attacked. A spokesman for the foreign ministry last week cited attacks on police stations as the reason that police failed to respond and protect churches and Christian institutions from attacks.

Ibrahim said there were indications that the violence was somewhat organized. With the exception of Al Nazla and other Fayoum villages, it took place mostly in cities, he says, and in most cases, police stations were attacked before churches. In the Minya province, after an incident of religious violence earlier this month, a local Gamaa Islamiya leader delivered a “threat cloaked in a warning” to Ibrahim about the reaction of Islamists if Rabaa was dispersed.

The government has implicitly accused the Muslim Brotherhood of organizing the violence, which the Brotherhood strongly denies. A spokesman for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement last week that the party “stands firmly against any attack – even verbal – against churches.” Brotherhood members and a spokesman have accused the security apparatus of carrying out the church attacks in an attempt to smear Islamists.

The Brotherhood said Facebook pages inciting religious violence under the party's name were fake. One page that appears to be the authentic Facebook page for the FJP in Helwan, south of Cairo, listed accusations against the church, before concluding: “After all this people ask why they burn churches.” The page noted that “burning houses of worship is a crime,” but added: “For every action, there is a reaction.”

Back in Al Nazla, church members said they held a service today despite the state of the sanctuary, and will continue to do so until they can rebuild the church. “We have to pray no matter what happens,” says Mr. Labib. “Even if they burn it to the ground, we will pray here.”