Washington D.C. - U.S. Copts Association received credible information that on Friday September 19, 2003 at 10:00 a.m.,
a large number of armed State and Central Security officers and soldiers attacked St. George Coptic Orthodox Church (a small historic church that sits on the foot of the mountain west of Assiut) during Holy Mass. The officer in charge ordered Fr. Abanoub, the church priest, to immediately evacuate and close down the church. Fr. Abanoub and the parishioners refused his request especially that it came during the prayer of the Holy Mass.
The police officers then attacked Fr. Abanoub, took the Holy Sacrament from the altar, threw it on the floor and proceeded to step on it with their boots.
This angered the parishioners and instigated a confrontation with the police forces.
The police then surrounded the church and arrested several deacons and young Copts in an attempt to occupy the church.
Fr. Abanoub continued his defiance in refusing to leave the church and asking the congregation to protect the church from the police.
The news of the attack on the church spread through the city and thousands of Copts rushed to protect and aid the church.
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 police then ordered the detention of Fr. Abanoub, however, they were unable to arrest him due to the massive crowd.
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.
There are unconfirmed reports that the police have released those they arrested from the church, however, the issue is yet to be resolved.
In the last 30 years Islamic extremists have successfully infiltrated all branches of the Egyptian government.
As a result, repeated attacks on Copts, their churches, and properties by members of the Egyptian government itself are common and are on the rise, said Michael Meunier, President of the U.S. Copts Association.
It is time for President Mubarak to put an end to this abuse and to hold accountable those responsible for these continued harassments.
Assiut is the third largest city in Egypt with the Copts comprising a majority of its citizens. Located 380 KM south of Cairo, Assiut is considered the hottest spot for Islamic extremist activities.