Police guard churches after threats on Europe's Copts

3rd January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Threats by Islamists against Coptic Christians drove police in several countries to boost security at the group's churches and sparked a probe in France, officials and clerics said Monday.

The security announcements came in the wake of a deadly attack in Egypt on a church of the Copts, an Egyptian branch of Christianity, which killed 21 people in the city of Alexandria on Saturday.

A French security source said Monday that the Paris anti-terrorism squad had launched an investigation on terrorism-related charges after a church leader in France filed a complaint.

A priest at the Coptic church of Saint Mary and Saint Mark in the Paris suburb of Chatenay-Malabry, Girguis Lucas, cited "threats made on the Internet by Islamic mujahedeens who announced other attacks in Europe and in France in particular, and who mention our church".

"Security is going to be reinforced for a while" at 19 Coptic churches in France, national police said. The French interior ministry estimates there are 45,000 Copts in France.

The first security source said police were patrolling at Coptic churches in the Paris region and security barriers would be put up from Tuesday.

Egypt was on high alert Monday ahead of January 7, when the Coptic church celebrates Christmas, following the church bombing on Saturday that killed 21 people and injured 79.

The Al-Qiddissin church in Alexandria was on a list, posted on December 2 by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shumukh al-Islam website, of 50 Coptic churches across Egypt and several European countries including France, Britain and Germany.

Copts in Germany have also received threats of attack by radical Muslims and asked for protection, Bishop Anba Damian said in comments published by a German newspaper on Sunday.

The German and Austrian interior ministries said they were examining the threats ahead of the Coptic Christmas weekend. Each country has about 6,000 Copts according to the church, with around the same number in the Netherlands.

"The police are trying to determine the level of threat," said a spokesman for the German interior ministry, Stefan Paris. The Austrian interior ministry said it had taken measures to secure the seven Coptic churches in the country.

The leader of Britain's 20,000 Copts, Bishop Angaelos, said that in recent days the church there had received unspecified "threats through our website that have targeted certain churches across Europe".

He said his parishioners had been on alert since a deadly attack on a Syriac Catholic church in Iraq in October and said the British police were monitoring the threat.

"We had already taken measures earlier since the bombing in Iraq. And since then there has been heightened security of our churches but obviously we have escalated it slightly" ahead of Friday's Christmas services, he said.

In the Netherlands, deacon Albert Francis said a Coptic church in Amsterdam and two others in the country were on the online list.

"We are going to take certain security measures" this weekend, he told AFP.

"The churches will not be open all day and in Amsterdam contact has been made with the police."

Bishop Anba Abakir, leader of the Coptic communities in Sweden and other Nordic countries, told AFP police had increased security at the churches in the region after one in Gothenburg, Sweden, figured on the list.

"We are taking precautions," he said. "We need prayers."

Canadian Coptic Association spokesman Sherif Mansour told AFP its 20 churches in Canada would hire security guards and police would patrol too at the weekend, after the website published names and photographs of Copts there.

He estimated Canada was home to about 255,000 Copts and said more were fleeing there due to violence in the Middle East.

In France, the priest Girguis Lucas said: "I am worried, but the (Christmas) mass will be celebrated as usual. What I want to say to the faithful is: 'Don't worry. The Lord is with us, and I have called the police."

© 2011 AFP

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