CAIRO: Egyptian police arrested Friday three suspects for the murder of six Copts and one security guard in a drive-by shooting Wednesday night in the Upper Egyptian town of Nagaa Hammadi.
Mohamed Ahmed Hassan El-Komy, Kershy Abou Haggag Mohamed Ali and Hendawy El-Sayed Mohamed Hassan surrendered to the police after they surrounded them in a farm.
“Police arrested them in a sugarcane field, one official told AFP.
Police began interrogations immediately to investigate the motives behind the crime that took place on Coptic Christmas eve.
General Adly Fayed, deputy minister of interior affairs for general security, told terrestrial television that the three have confessed to committing the drive-by shooting, adding that it is unlikely that there are other people involved.
A shooting spree on Coptic Christmas eve killed six Copts and one Muslim security guard, and left 10 critically injured in front of a church where worshippers were attending Christmas mass.
Coptic rights activist Hala Al-Masry told Daily News Egypt that the victims were between 17 and 29 years old.
Security forces clashed with over 2,000 Egyptian Copts who gathered in front of the hospital where the victims were taken as security forces cordoned off the area, under heavy police presence.
While the police are yet to officially state the motives behind the shooting, security sources attribute it to the events in Farshout last November when a Christian allegedly raped a 12-year-old Muslim girl, triggering a retaliatory burning and looting of Christian homes and Christian-owned shops by Muslim villagers.
Relative calm returned to Nagaa Hammadi on Friday, as security forces lifted the curfew.
On Friday, Nagaa Hammadi’s Bishop Kirilos refused to receive a government delegation that wanted to give their condolences.
“I will not be able to receive any official or unofficial delegations who are here either to give condolences or wish us a merry Christmas, he told Daily News Egypt.
“The only condolences they can give is punishing the perpetrators and taking measures that prevent such incidents from reoccurring, he said.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization (EUHRO) sent two memos to the United Nations and the European Union, demanding an international investigation into the incident.
In his memo to the UN, Head of EUHRO Naguib Gobrael called for International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to issue arrest warrants for both the governor and security chief of Qena.
He also called for commissioning a fact-finding committee to prepare a report on the attacks.
“We made international phone calls whose details we cannot disclose at this point, but we are expecting a delegation from the UN’s Human Rights Council in Cairo soon to prepare a report on the incident, Gobrael said.
“We resorted to international bodies because all Egyptian doors were shut in our faces, he added.
EUHRO will hold a press conference on Sunday that will bring together members of American and European Coptic organizations.
Italy on Thursday condemned the violent acts against Coptic Christians in Egypt, reported AFP, with Foreign Minister Franco Frattini saying he would personally take up the matter with his Egyptian counterpart on a visit to Cairo next week.
“The violence perpetrated against the Christian Copt community in Egypt is horrific and outrageous, Frattini said.
“I will personally speak to my counterpart Aboul Gheit about the protection of the Copt community in this country… on the occasion of my visit to Cairo at the end of next week, said Frattini, whose previously scheduled trip to Egypt will be part of a weeklong African tour.
“The international community cannot remain indifferent and must never lower its guard in the face of religious intolerance, which is a serious violation of basic human rights, Frattini said.
Christians must stick together against oppression, a senior Vatican official told the head of the Coptic Church Friday following the murder of six Copts in Egypt, according to AFP.
“All Christians must remain united in the face of oppression and seek together the peace that only Christ can give, Cardinal Walter Kasper said in a letter to patriarch Shenuda III, released by the Vatican.
Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also said he had been saddened to learn of the shootings.
“Each time Christians suffer unjustly it is a wound in the body of Christ which all believers share, he said, adding, “together we share this sadness and together we pray for healing, peace and justice. -Additional reporting by AFP.