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WASHINGTON – Egyptian state and central security officers and soldiers attacked a small historic Coptic church in Assiut during Mass, arresting several deacons and others, throwing communion bread on the floor and stepping on it with their boots, according to reports received by the U.S. Copts Association.
According to the group, the attack on St. George Coptic Orthodox Church occurred Friday.
The officer in charge of the raid reportedly ordered the church priest to evacuate and close down the church. The priest refused, as did the parishioners.
When their orders were not obeyed, the police officers attacked the priest, according to the report. Angry parishioners confronted the police, who surrounded the church and made arrests in an attempt to occupy the church.
“The news of the attack on the church spread through the city and thousands of Copts rushed to protect and aid the church,” said the report from the association.
“As the scene developed police forces were surrounded by thousands of angry Copts chanting various cries of defiance, such as: ‘By our spirit, by our blood, we will protect our cross!,’ ‘We will die martyrs defending our church!,’ and ‘We are ready to start a new age of martyrdom at the hands of the government!'”
The massive crowd of Copts prevented the government forces from arresting the priest, said the report.
“It is unclear what motivated the security forces to attack this historic holy site, however, members of the Coptic Community in Assiut tell U.S. Copts Association that they fear fanatic policemen may have plans to convert the historic church into a mosque,” said the association in a statement.
Observers say Islamic extremists have successfully infiltrated all branches of the Egyptian government, resulting in repeated attacks on Copts, their churches, and properties by members of the Egyptian government.
Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association said it is time for President Hosni Mubarak to put an end to the abuse and to hold accountable those responsible for the continued harassment of Christians.
Assiut is the third largest city in Egypt with the Copts comprising a majority of its citizens.