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Egyptian police arrest nine Copts to pressure priest to drop charges against suspects in church attack

(Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)Women pass by the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 10, 2017.

Egyptian police have arrested nine Copts in an apparent attempt to persuade a priest to drop charges against a mob involved in vandalizing a church and other properties belonging to Christians.

According to World Watch Monitor, a church in the village of Abou El-Shuqaf in Beheira Governorate was attacked on May 26 by a mob armed with Molotov cocktails. Apart from the church, the mob also carried out attacks against other properties owned by Christians

Wahid Fahim, a resident of the village, recounted that the attack took place following the afternoon prayers at the local mosque next to the church. After the prayers, the mosque's loudspeakers reportedly urged the worshippers to launch the attack on the church.

"A large Muslim mob then gathered in the front of the church building and began pelting it with Molotov cocktails, bricks and stones, while shouting 'Allahu akbar' [Allah is the greatest] and chanting slogans against the church. They burnt down the main wooden gate of the church building and another door, and broke some windows," Fahim said, as reported by World Watch Monitor.

He noted that the mob also destroyed a car owned by Fr. Aghabius Mounir, the priest of the village's Mar Morcos church.

"They also set fire to a motorbike that was parked in front of the church building and owned by a Coptic man named Mina Maher. They then pelted the Coptic houses next to the church with stones and bricks. Seven Copts received minor injuries. When Fr. Aghabius Mounir ... arrived in the village, they smashed his car and overturned it," he added.

Moussa, a Coptic resident of the village, claimed that the police arrested nine Copts despite knowing that they were not involved in the attack. He alleged that the authorities only arrested the Copts to pressure them into reconciling with the assailants.

Mounir had reportedly agreed to drop the case against the attackers in order to secure the release of the Copts who were arrested. Additionally, the police also released 11 Muslims, who were suspected of being involved in the attack.

The attack was believed to be prompted by Mounir's attempt to register the church in accordance with a 2016 law that allowed for the construction, renovation and the licensing of churches.

A similar attack took place at a church in the Beni Suef Governorate on April 14, the same day of the scheduled visit by the Building Authority Committee, which conducted an inspection of the building ahead of the church's registration.

During a meeting with local officials and politicians on Saturday, the Copts had agreed to drop the charges against 11 suspects so that the church can continue to hold services.

Coptic Christians began construction of the church, located on the second floor of a three-story building, in 2015.

Muslim villagers reportedly started building a mosque next to the church after they found out that Copts have applied for official registration of the church.

The Copts believe that the construction of the mosque was an attempt to jeopardize the church's chances of obtaining a legal status. An Ottoman-era decree, which is still in effect today, prohibits churches from being built next to a mosque.

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