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Coptic priest killed in street attack in Cairo

Fr Shehata, right

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church says a priest has been killed in a knife attack in a poor Cairo district, the latest deadly assault on members of the country’s Christian minority.

The church says the attack took place on Thursday. The priest was identified in the media as Fr Samaan Shehata.

Security officials say the attacker struck the priest’s head with a cleaver and fled the scene, but was later arrested. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

The motive was not immediately known.

Bishop Angaelos, Britain’s Coptic Orthodox bishop, said Fr Shehata, a priest from the Upper Egypt region, had been visiting his family in Cairo and collecting aid for the needy in his parish. He had left his mobile phone at a church and was walking back to reclaim it.

Bishop Angaelos said: “Today is a day that brings anger and I am not apologetic for that anger.

“In the midst of this anger and this sadness, however, I continue to pray,” he said. “I pray repose for Fr Samaan, I pray for his family, I pray for his community. I pray for the wider Egyptian Christian community that feels more and more vulnerable and targeted daily against a backdrop of negligence and injustice. I pray for the wider Egyptian society, that becomes more and more discredited and compromised as these incidents continue to happen.

“This anger is not void of forgiveness, but cries out for accountability and justice,” the bishop said.

He said the circumstances of Fr Shehata’s death raised “many questions” – including why an ambulance had taken an hour to get to the scene and why police had not secured the crime scene to collect forensic evidence.

The bishop wrote: “Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street, especially a suburban street in Cairo? Why should he be chased by a man brandishing a deadly weapon and have no one run to his aid; in actual fact, everyone was running away. Why, when he lay drenched in his own blood did the ambulance service not arrive for over an hour, and then not treat him?

“Why, when the police finally arrived, and he lay dead, was a crime scene not secured and forensic evidence not collected to enable a robust and serious investigation?”

Attacks on Egypt’s Christians, who account for about 10 per cent of the country’s 94 million people, have surged in recent months, with a series of suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State group killing more than 100 since December.

Catholic Herald writers contributed to this Associated Press report.