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The wife of a Coptic priest in Egypt whose alleged abduction and forced conversion to Islam sparked four days of mass protests by Christian Copts and whose return was announced last night is still being held captive, Coptic sources told WorldNetDaily.

The announcement of the woman’s return had helped to end the protests.

About 55 people were injured in the clashes Wednesday night at the gates of Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral, where thousands gathered to protest what they said was the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of Wafaa Constantine Messiha, the wife of a Coptic priest based in Egypt. Demonstrators charged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been indifferent to Coptic pleas for protection from Muslim-led persecution, and called on the U.S. to immediately intervene.

Protests ended early yesterday when church authorities announced the woman was under their protection.

But sources involved with the negotiations told WorldNetDaily Messiha is not yet under the total authority of the church and the Coptic hierarchy has been unable to verify her present condition. They said she was delivered to a Coptic house of nuns that has been surrounded by Egyptian police, and that for now access to her has been denied.

Emil Zaki, vice president of the North American Copts Association, told WorldNetDaily he verified Messiha is still under siege.

“The police are circling around the house of nuns and doing so in a very intimidating way,” said Zaki. “I think the church decision to say she was returned was for the welfare of the revolting Copts. The church needed to defuse the crisis to stop the brutality against the protesters.”

Although Egypt’s native Christian Coptic population have long clashed with Muslim extremists, demonstrators say a rise in anti-Coptic sentiment had prompted an escalation in violence. Christians were the majority in Egypt until several centuries after the Arab conquest of the seventh century. They now make up between 5 and 10 percent of the population.

Recent crimes cited by the demonstrators include an increased rate of kidnapping, rapes and forced conversion of young Coptic women.

Muslim villagers Friday stormed and set fire to a building housing a Coptic prayer room. The mob then swept through the village, looting and burning Coptic homes and businesses, destroying a Coptic priest’s car and injuring several Copts in the process. The demonstrators said the Muslim mob was prompted by an announcement that Mubarak refused a request by a local Coptic community to build a church.

In a letter to President Bush, Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association, appealed for his immediate intervention with Mubarak on behalf of Egypt’s persecuted Copts.

“Mubarak’s regime has not only ignored, but in many cases contributed to the alarming increase in anti-Coptic violence,” said Meunier. “Only President Bush’s personal intervention can help prevent the escalation of these hate crimes into full-fledged cultural genocide.”

An online petition asks U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, through the U.S. ambassador in Egypt, David Welch, “to interfere and demand the release of Mrs. Messiha from her captors, and put an end to the police brutality, terror and organized persecution against the Coptic Christians of Egypt.”

Zaki said Egyptian police had used excessive force against the Copts while the protests were ongoing. Footage of the protests show many Copts being severely injured. He said the Egyptian government initially tried to minimize press coverage of the protest sites.

Indeed, WorldNetDaily was one of the first foreign media outlets to report the mass protests in an article that was linked on dozens of major news sites and distributed throughout online message boards. There have since been over 80 articles filed, a few citing WorldNetDaily.

“WorldNetDaily is a blessing for the world of news. Your article focused attention on what was happening, and prompted the rest of the media to pick up the story,” said Zaki.

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