Egypt's Interior Minister raises security level to maximum alert in preparation for Coptic Christmas

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

Egypt's Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar has ordered the security level to be raised to maximum alert in preparation for Coptic Christmas which will begin later this month and continue until Jan. 7.

On Saturday evening the Ghaffar met with deputy ministers and security officials to review the security plan to secure the Christmas celebrations, Egypt Independent reported.

The interior minister highlighted the importance of increasing the presence of security personnel in public streets and squares as well as Christian places of worship and vital state institutions.

Ghaffar ordered security officials to follow up on the security procedures and implement plans to ensure that nothing would disturb the holiday celebrations.

"Critical security confrontations with terrorist factions in North Sinai may prompt some of them to flee and try to sneak into cities, and this will require vigilance and preparation to face those attempts," Ghaffar said, according to Al Arabiya.

The interior minister noted that citizens' cooperation is an important factor in the success of the security preparations.

He stressed that the Ministry of Interior will not hesitate to deal with those who violate the law and those who seek to jeopardize the security and safety of citizens with the utmost firmness.

The decision to raise the security to the highest level was reportedly prompted by a terrorist attack on a security checkpoint in Arish on Sunday.

Security forces are expected to implement security procedures for all 2,326 churches in Egypt. The security plans involve applying 800-meter "safe areas" around churches and providing them with explosive detection devices to thwart any attempts to target places of worship.

A number of vehicles will be provided to security patrols to monitor and document the situation on roads and main axes.

The vehicles are equipped with communication equipment and connectivity and supported by CCTV, ANPR and SCOUT-APP camera systems. The patrol cars will also include a detention room that will accommodate six suspects at a time.

The police patrols in different governorates will be focusing on rented flats around places of worship that are sometimes used by terrorists for planning attacks or preparing explosives. Extremists in remote areas will also be targeted, based on intelligence information.

Christmas celebrations are expected to be held at the Abbasiya Patriarchate on Jan. 6, 2018, coinciding with the finalization of restoration work for the Grand Church in the cathedral where Christmas Mass will be held on the holy night.

In 2016, Christmas celebrations were rocked by an explosion in the al-Botrosiya Church near the complex of the main Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, killing 29 people and injuring tens of others. The attack was said to be carried out by the Islamic State terror group.

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