Egypt Copts scrap pope celebration after Iraq church attack

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CAIRO: Egypt’s Coptic church scrapped a celebration on Saturday to mark Pope Shenouda III ordination in solidarity with the Christians of Iraq after the Baghdad church bloodbath, state news agency MENA reported.

Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq said its gunmen carried out the Oct. 31 attack in the Iraqi capital and threatened to target the region’s Christians if the Coptic church did not release two women rumored to have converted to Islam.

A source in the Coptic church, quoted by MENA, denied the 39th anniversary of Shenouda’s ordination as pope to be held in Cairo later on Saturday was called off because of the threat from Islamist militants.

The pope had "deemed it appropriate… because of the conditions that the region is going through," said the unnamed source.

"The monstrous crime" in Baghdad "has affected the whole world. Solidarity with the church in Iraq and mourning for the victims are the least of the obligations of the Coptic church and churches in the region," he said.

"There is no link to the threats by Al-Qaeda," the source said, adding that it was otherwise business as usual for the Coptic church.

President Hosni Mubarak has condemned the threats and promised to protect the Copts, who make up between six and 10 percent of Egypt’s 80-million population and who have been the targets of sectarian attacks in the past.

At least 46 hostages, including two priests, were killed during a hostage drama with Al-Qaeda gunmen in Baghdad’s Sayidat Al-Nejat Syriac Catholic cathedral during Sunday mass at the end of last month.

Security around Coptic churches in Egypt has been tightened since the church attack, which has also been condemned by Egyptian Islamic figures.


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