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Monday, October 10, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Christians fight back after torching of church, confront Egyptian Army

CAIRO — At least 24 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the bloodiest fighting between Christians and Egypt's military regime. The fighting took place throughout Cairo on Oct. 10 as thousands of Muslims and Christians hurled rocks and firebombs at each other.


"I am making contacts with leaderships of police, Army, Coptic Church and National Justice Committee to contain the situation and avoid negative repercussions," Egyptian Prime Minister Issam Sharaf said.

The clashes, which prompted the military to impose a curfew, stemmed from Christian protests of the torching of a church in the village of Merinab in the southern province of Aswan on Sept. 30, Middle East Newsline reported. The church was attacked after authorities said the building was constructed without a license.

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An estimated 10,000 Copts marched in protest in several cities, including to the state television in Cairo. Officials said the Copts, who demanded the dismissal of Aswan Gov. Mustafa Sayed, blocked streets in the capital's downtown district and soon were confronted by at least 1,000 soldiers and police officers. Later, the security forces were joined by Muslim civilians.

Witnesses said Egyptian troops employed tear gas and live fire and then ran over protesters with their vehicles. The Christians, many of whom were later arrested, responded with rocks and firebombs and tried to grab the weapons of the security officers.

"This will not affect the morale of the armed forces," Egyptian military police commander Gen. Hamdin Badin said. "We are fighters. This is a very normal situation."

The Health Ministry said 24 people were killed in Cairo, at least three of them soldiers, the biggest toll since 15 died in Muslim-Christian clashes in Cairo in March. Christians, who comprise more than 10 percent of Egyptians, also protested in Alexandria as well as the southern city of Luxor, but no casualties were reported.

Copts were said to have comprised a major element in the revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February. Since then, Coptic leaders have reported a sharp increase in attacks by Al Qaida-inspired Islamists, some of them linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Officials have called on the Copts to end their protests as the military imposed a nightly curfew around Cairo. On Oct. 10, the Cabinet discussed the violence in an emergency session.

"We need unity more than ever," Information Minister Osama Heikal said.

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