CAIRO (AP) — Hundreds of Muslim demonstrators assaulted an unlicensed church south of Cairo, an Egyptian Coptic Christian diocese said on Saturday, in the latest assault on members of the country’s Coptic minority.
The incident took place after Friday prayers when demonstrators gathered outside the building and stormed it. The demonstrators chanted hostile slogans and called for the church’s demolition, the diocese in Atfih said. The demonstrators destroyed the church’s contents and assaulted Christians inside before security personnel arrived and dispersed them.
The wounded were transferred to a nearby hospital but didn’t elaborate.
The church in Giza just outside of Cairo is yet to be sanctioned by the state but 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.
Local authorities often refuse to give building permits for new churches, fearing protests by Muslim conservatives. That has prompted Christians to illegally build churches or set up churches in other buildings. In contrast, building a mosque results in few restrictions.
Christians constitute 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population. Sectarian violence occasionally erupts, mainly in rural communities in the south.
Egypt’s Christian minority has often been targeted by Islamic militants in a series of attacks since December 2016 that left more than 100 dead and scores wounded. The country has been under a state of emergency since April after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday in an attack that was claimed by the Egyptian affiliate the Islamic State group.