CAIRO: The Egyptian army foiled a bid early yesterday to attack a Coptic church in the Rafah border town with Gaza as the minority Christian community began celebrating its Christmas, Mena news agency reported.
“Army units foiled an attack against the Rafah church at 1am and seized a car packed with explosives and weapons near the church,” the official news agency said.
Another car carrying masked men sped away as the patrols seized the explosives-packed Toyota vehicle, Mena said.
Egypt’s Coptic minority celebrated its first Christmas under Islamist rule. In September, residents and officials reported that several Coptic families from Rafah had fled from the Sinai peninsula town that borders the Gaza Strip after receiving death threats.
Egyptian security sources suggested, meanwhile, that the planned attack could have been aimed at a military camp under construction near the church which has been targeted in the past by militants.
They said the church has been lying abandoned for the past two years after it was torched in the aftermath of the countrywide uprising that toppled the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the planned attack but one security source said the perpetrators were “probably radicals whom security forces have been tracking for months.”
Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi, who hails from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, visited the Sinai peninsula in October to meet with and reassure Coptic families, telling them that “your security is our security”.
Egypt’s Copts, who make up six to 10 percent of the country’s population of 83 million, have regularly complained of discrimination and marginalisation and have also been the target of numerous sectarian attacks.
One of the worst incidents of violence occurred on January 1, 2011 when 23 people were killed in an attack on a Coptic church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.