In pictures: The ruins of a burnt-out Coptic church

Attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority have multiplied following the bloody crackdown on supporters of the ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. FRANCE 24 went to meet the caretakers of a burnt-out Coptic church in Giza, near Cairo.

Mehdi Chebil

Hidden at the end of a dusty road in Giza, the Coptic Christian church in the Kordossa neighbourhood seems strangely calm on Sunday August 18, when worshippers normally attend Mass.

As you push open the heavy metal door beneath a painting of the Archangel Saint Michael, you begin to understand the fear that has tormented Egypt’s Christian minority since security forces launched a brutal crackdown on supporters of the deposed Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.

The church is now no more than an empty shell, whose blackened arches and ceiling bear witness to a raging fire. Some half-burned benches have been pushed into a corner of the building and the remains of religious robes and of Arabic-language bibles can be seen among the ashes. The caretaker of the church, Reda Abdallah, showed FRANCE 24 the extent of the damage, and explained how the attack happened.

‘Islamiya, islamiya!’

The attack began at around 4:30 pm on Wednesday, Aug. 14, as Egyptian security forces were confronting Morsi supporters outside Cairo’s Rabaa mosque.

"First we heard cries outside … The cries of an angry croud singing ‘islamiya, islamiya!’ (calling for an Islamic state) and chanting slogans hostile to our Pope [the Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II] and to General Sisi. There were already around a thousand people, for the most part youngsters of 20 to 25 but also some older people. Many among them were armed with sticks and knives, they came here directly after sacking the local police station", says Reda Abdallah.

Overwhelmed by the angry crowd, the caretaker had no other choice but to flee from the back door. The locks on the outer gate didn’t hold out for long against the assailants. Between 4:30pm and 6pm, the attackers methodically vandalised the whole site, setting fire to the church and the adjacent community centre while also writing Islamist slogans on the outer walls. Three people were killed in the attack.

The young Copt Korollos Khalil witnessed the scene from the roof of his house, which adjoins one of the burnt-out buildings. He’s still marvelling at how his father worked frantically to cool the walls with water in order to keep the fire on the other side from spreading.

"I couldn’t even manage to touch the wall with my hand, it was so burning hot!" said the eight-year-old child, who was still in shock over the attack.

His parents tried in vain to alert the authorities.

"My husband and I called the police a hundred times. Sometimes the police said they would come … but they never came", Korollos Khalil’s mother says. The Church caretaker confirmed that no police officer had come to investigate between the date of the attack, Aug. 14, and the arrival of the FRANCE 24 team on Aug. 18.

Abandoned to their fate, the Coptic Christians of Kordossa had to turn to their mainly Muslim neighbours. Elsam Ahmed, who lives 20 metres from the church, says he took two wounded Copts into his home. The man, aged around 50, described the attackers as "drugged-up little hoodlums, thieves who took fridges and everything they could find".

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