During clashes at Cairo’s St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral on Sunday, Christian worshipers attacked by a mob throwing rocks, firebombs and birdshot said there were far too few police deployed near the church to protect the worshipers.
As TheBlaze reported on Sunday, once police did arrive in large numbers, the scene was already out of control, with mourners trapped inside the church as the two sides clashed outside.
Egypt’s Christians are accusing police of siding with the Muslim attackers, or at the very least standing idly by, as worshipers were bombarded with projectiles. Reports from the scene and newly published photos seem to bolster their claim, though it’s unclear if the police actions were by design or incompetence.
Middle East analyst Raymond Ibrahim, an Arabic speaker who follows the Egyptian media closely, posted photos on his website that he found in the Egyptian press. He writes, “Several Egyptian media outlets and newspapers, especially the popular Youm7, have published a variety of pictures showing mobs, if not terrorists, attacking the cathedral in front of absolutely indifferent, possibly approving, security forces.”
Ibrahim wrote of the above photo: “Muslim ‘youth’ climb to the roof of a building adjacent to St. Mark Cathedral to attack it. To the left, a man winds to hurl a projectile at it. And in the white circle to the right, high-ranking Egyptian officials and security stand by watching (easily recognizable by their hats and helmets).”
In the next photo that Ibrahim found, a man is seen holding rocks that presumably he intends to throw at the cathedral, while security forces stand nearby.
In the next disturbing photo, an Egyptian man is seen burning a book opposite the cathedral, which Ibrahim reports is a Bible, while Egyptian police officers can be seen standing to his left and behind him. Ibrahim points out by comparison that desecrating a Koran in Egypt is a criminal offense. TheBlaze is unable to verify the photos or to confirm if the book was indeed a Bible.
After the attack on the cathedral, President Mohamed Morsi phoned the Coptic Pope Tawadros II and told him: “I consider any attack on the cathedral as an attack on me, personally.”
According to a statement from his office reported by AP, Morsi ordered authorities to guard the cathedral and citizens inside the cathedral and in the area. He pledged to protect both Muslims and Christians, saying it’s a state responsibility to do so.
If police were trying to protect the Christian worshipers, it’s unclear why they fired teargas canisters into the cathedral compound, resulting in dramatic photos like this one from the Associated Press:
A tear gas canister is fired by Egyptian riot police into the compound of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral after the funeral of four Christians killed in sectarian clashes near Cairo over the weekend in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, April 7, 2013. (Photo: AP)
The New York Times’ reporting also bolsters the claims of those who are accusing police of complicity. In its wrap of the clashes, it reported (emphasis added):
It was unclear who started the violence. But later dozens of riot police with armored vehicles and tear-gas canons appeared to enter the fray on the side of crowds of young Muslim men who were throwing rocks and fire bombs at the mourners.
In what seemed like a siege of the cathedral, tear-gas canisters fell inside the walls of its compound, sending gas into the sanctuary and two nuns running for shelter in a nearby loading dock.
Later, some of the young civilians who had been attacking the cathedral switched to taunts, making lewd gestures involving the sign of the cross. The riot policemen made no attempt to stop them, either from throwing rocks toward the cathedral or insulting the Christians.
“The police are not trying to protect us or do anything to stop the violence,” said Wael Eskandar, a Coptic Christian activist. “On the contrary, they are actively aiding the people in civilian clothes” attacking the Christians, he said.
It appears incompetence played at least a partial role in the police response, as they are not always trained in appropriate crowd control measures. The New York Times reported from the scene that they at times fired tear gas “at random into the surrounding neighborhood.”
Despite the eyewitness accounts to the contrary, Egypt’s Interior Ministry released a statement accusing the mourners of starting the violence and claiming riot police intervened to stop it.
“Some mourners vandalized a number of cars, which led to clashes and fights with the people of the area,” the statement said according to the New York Times. “Interference to separate the clashing parties is ongoing,” it added.
More photos that Raymond Ibrahim found in the Egyptian press showing close ups of those attacking the cathedral, shooting guns, gathering rocks and barrels to be thrown at the Christian holy site can be found here.