CAIRO (AP) — Hundreds of Muslim demonstrators attacked an unlicensed church south of Cairo wounding three people, an Egyptian Coptic Christian diocese said on Saturday, in the latest assault on members of the country’s Christian minority.
The incident took place after Friday prayers when dozens of 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.
A media coordinator at the diocese, the Rev. Yehnes Youssef, said later on Saturday that three Copts were wounded but have been treated.
The church in Giza just outside of Cairo is yet to be sanctioned by the state but has been holding 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 issue building permits for new churches, fearing protests by hardline Muslims. Christians sometimes build churches illegally or set up churches in other buildings.
Christians constitute around 10 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Muslim population. Sectarian violence erupts occasionally, mainly in rural communities in the south.
Egypt’s Christian minority has 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 local affiliate of the Islamic State group.