Bishop Kyrillos, the Coptic Orthodox bishop of Nag Hammadi, received last week several threats of attacks to be carried out on churches in Nag Hammadi, either on New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve on January 6. “I do not want another Nag Hammadi Massacre to happen again,” he said in an interview on the Egyptian independent TV Channel Al Tahrir. On January 6, 2010 6 Copts were killed and more than 15 injured in a drive-by shooting of worshippers as they left church after celebrating the Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve’s mass, which falls on January 6 according to the Julian Calender.
The Nag Hammadi diocese will cancel all festivities for New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve, and will end the midnight service early and not after midnight as is the norm.
“I have reported to the police all the threats received and asked for protection. I told them that I am ready to ask our youth to organize committees to protect the churches,” said Bishop Kyrillos. “Yesterday I sent an appeal to Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the prime minister and the interior minister, asking them to secure Nag Hammadi, which has experienced repeated acts of violence.”
At the end of 2009, despite warnings by local church authorities in Nag Hammadi of possible violence during the Coptic festivities in January 2010, police had not bolstered security for Christmas.
Bishop Kyrillos believes that the reason behind these new threats is his unwavering support for the Copts of his diocese, who are plagued by an escalating series of kidnappings. The Bishop councils his parishioners not to give in to the kidnappers by paying the ransoms, but instead to report the crime to the police. “I cannot and will not stay inactive while I see the terrified Coptic families paying all what they have, and sometimes what they do not have, to get their children back.”
The leader of the kidnapping gang, Ahmed Saber, who lives in Samasta village in Bahgoura, threatened to carry out a massacre in Nag Hammadi after the security forces attempted to arrest him and his gang, but were not successful.
From August 11 until December 24, eleven kidnappings took place in Nag Hammadi and neighboring Farshout and Bahgoura, part of the parish of Nag Hammadi, and this has “escalated recently to the extent that not one week passes without kidnapping, sometimes even taking place at mid-day,” said Bishop Kyrillos. “Some families report the kidnapping to the police, some are returned without paying ransoms and some families pay huge sums of money for their loved ones.”
Only in 4 out of the 11 cases did families recover their children without paying ransom. Some ransoms went as high as 630,000 Egyptian pounds, paid for the release of a physician and a pharmacist, while 17-year old friends Girgis and Mina Dawood, kidnapped together on December 24, were released yesterday for a smaller ransom. “Contrary to my advice, their families paid a ransom of 130,000 for both lads.” He said he does not believe the kidnappers would slaughter the children as they threaten, but they do it for the high ransoms they are demanding and eventually getting.
Bishop Kyrillos is very pessimistic regarding the threats of attacks on churches. The Nag Hammadi Massacre of 2010, was one in a series of attacks on churches during the Coptic festivities. A similar incident took place in April 2009 when Muslims opened fire on worshipers as they left the prayer service on Easter Eve in the village of Higaza, Qena Governorate, resulting in the death of Amir Stephanos (36), Ayub Said (22), and the injury of Mina Samir (35).
On New Year’s Eve 2011, a bomb detonated outside the Two Saints Church in Alexandria, killing 23 and injuring 96 parishioners who were attending a New Year’s Eve Mass (AINA 1-2-2011).
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