Egypt's Christians fear new attack on holiday

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian Christians say they fear a repeat attack against their community on Coptic Christmas Eve Thursday despite authorities planning heavy security following a New Year’s suicide bombing of a church in Alexandria that killed 21.

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An Egyptian Muslim woman shows solidarity logos of Islam and Christianity during a march Wednesday at al Azhar University to protest against the terrorist attack on a Coptic Christian church.

In response to the threats against the Christians by extremists, Egyptian activists have called on Muslims to form human shields in front of the churches on Christmas Eve as gesture of solidarity with country’s Coptic Christian minority, which makes up 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people.

The bombing of the church, the worst act of sectarian violence in the country in a decade, touched off days of demonstrations and riots by the Christians blaming the government for encouraging discrimination and prejudice and not doing enough to protect them.

Some Christians have even said they will skip Thursday’s Christmas Eve services for fear that there will be more attacks.

“I had a fight with my mother. She kept saying no churches this year. I wanted to go but my parents are afraid something might happen again,” said Karim Monier, a 19-year-old student living in the middle-class neighborhood of Hadayak Helwan in southern Cairo.

Egyptian authorities have beefed up security around many churches all over country, with explosives experts on hand. Armored vehicles will be stationed in main squares in case of emergency.

The Interior Ministry on Wednesday released to the public a composite photo of what is said was the one remaining victim out of the 21 dead who has not yet been identified. The ministry asked for anyone who recognized the face to report the identity to authorities, apparently aiming to determine whether he could be the bomber. Police said the face in the photo had been pieced together from remains, and parts of the image appeared digitally manipulated to fill in gaps.

Extremist Islamic websites affiliated with al-Qaida have been circulating lists of Coptic Churches in Egypt and Europe — including the one attacked on New Year’s — along with instructions on how to attack them.

“Blow up the churches while they are celebrating Christmas or any other time when the churches are packed,” the statement read.

Coptic websites have been worriedly circulating the lists of churches as a warning to their members and several European government have announced they will be increasing security at their own Coptic sites.

Mohammed Moussaoui, head of France’s main Muslim group, said it will send a delegation to attend a Coptic Christian Christmas service in France on Friday.

The threats have sparked a backlash in Egypt, where there have long been sectarian tensions, and numerous groups are pushing for Muslims to guard the churches as human shields.

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