Egyptians hold vigil for Baghdad church victims

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CAIRO: Egyptian Copts and Muslims held a candlelight vigil Monday night in memory of the victims of the horrific Oct. 31 attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad that killed 58 people.

Dozens gathered in front of the Iraqi embassy in the Egyptian capital, holding candles and signs reading: "No to Terrorism" and "We are all Egyptian."

Vigil organizer Hany El-Gazeery said the gathering wanted to reject Al-Qaeda’s threat to Christians and express solidarity with Iraqis.

The siege of Baghdad’s al-Nejat Syriac Catholic church, in which Islamic militants took about 120 parishioners hostage, was the deadliest ever recorded against Iraq’s Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 US-led invasion as members of the community have fled to other countries to escape the violence.

Al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq later claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened more attacks on Christians.

It linked the warning to claims by Muslim extremists in Egypt that the country’s Coptic Church is holding women captive for converting to Islam.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak subsequently assured the country’s Coptic Christians the government will protect them in the face of al-Qaeda threats.

Tensions between Muslims and Copts are on the rise in Egypt over issues like the construction of new churches and bitter arguments over conversions. The two communities generally live in peace, though clashes and attacks have taken place.

Egyptian Muslim Mahitab Al-Gilani (L) holds flowers as she protests with others in front of the Iraqi embassy in Cairo. (AFP Photo/ Khaled Desouki)


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