Mob besieges Coptic Christians

By Alastair Beach

Alastair Beach sees gang attack cathedral during funeral for five killed in clashes.

Hundreds of Christians were inside Cairo's Coptic Cathedral as security forces and local residents, some armed with handguns, launched a prolonged attack on the seat of Egypt's ancient Church.

At least one person was killed and at least 84 injured as Christians inside the walled St Mark's cathedral compound came under a frenzied assault from assailants on the main road outside. The fighting erupted after a mass funeral for five Copts who were killed during violent clashes in a north Egyptian town on Sunday. A Muslim man also died in the clashes, which happened after an Islamic institute was daubed with offensive graffiti.

Following yesterday's service thousands of Christians poured out on to the street and began chanting slogans against Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian President.

Morsi said he had spoken to Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic church, and had given orders for the cathedral and citizens to be guarded.

Earlier, witnesses described how they were attacked by locals from Abbasiyya, the northeast Cairo neighbourhood where the cathedral is located. After being hit by rocks from nearby buildings, the mourners were forced back into the cathedral compound.

Wael Eskandar, an Egyptian blogger who attended the funeral, said he saw people being showered with broken bottles from the roof of an apartment block opposite. After being attacked, he said, the people "started racing out of the side street and destroying the nearby cars". As night fell the streets around St Mark's echoed to the sound of gunshots and exploding tear gas canisters. Young men on either side of the 5.5m-high compound wall exchanged a continuous hail of rocks. Others hurled Molotov cocktails and let off fireworks. The security forces outside the cathedral launched volley after volley of tear gas into the compound. Some of the thousands of onlookers cheered as the canisters rocketed towards Christians.

One young man, holding a his right hand clasped around a shiny steel handgun, clambered on top of a petrol station alongside the cathedral and blasted a single round at those trapped inside. Handguns and other weapons are becoming a more common feature of the violence which has regularly convulsed the country. Independent

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