Coptic Christians stage a mock funeral procession as they gather in Rome, Sunday, January 9, 2011, to demand religious freedom and protection following a New Year's church attack in Egypt that killed 21 worshippers. - Photo by AP

CAIRO: A Muslim policeman shot dead an Egyptian Christian on a train on Tuesday and wounded five others, sources said, less than two weeks after a church was bombed in Egypt's deadliest attack on Christians in years.

The shooting is likely to stoke tensions in the Muslim majority country, where Christians protested for several days after the Jan. 1 bombing of a church in Alexandria that killed up to 23 people.

Christians make up a tenth of Egypt's 79 million people and have long complained of unfair treatment. They have accused the government of not doing enough to protect them.

Mariam Salah, a doctor in Minya, south of the capital, told Reuters her hospital was treating five wounded Christians. She said one of them told her a sixth Christian was shot dead.

Outside the hospital, between 200 and 400 Christians gathered to protest the latest attack and demand the government do more to protect them. Police used teargas to disperse them, security sources said.

A security source confirmed one Christian had been shot dead and said the attacker was a Muslim police officer.

An Interior Ministry statement named the attacker as officer Amer Ashour Abdel-Zaher, a name that suggests he was a Muslim.

It also named the man killed and the five others wounded, saying one of those injured was the dead man's wife. The husband and wife were from Cairo and the others were from Minya. At least two of the names indicated they were Christians.

The Interior Ministry said the suspect boarded a train and “opened fire on some train passengers from his pistol and ran away”. It said the perpetrator was caught at his home and an investigation was under way.

The official news agency said the train was travelling between Cairo and Assiut in southern Egypt.

Sectarian Tension

The Jan. 1 church bombing was untypical of the kind of sectarian violence that sometimes erupts over issues such as building churches and romantic relationships between members of the two religions.

Local rows or vendettas between families from the two communities have sometimes flared up into attacks or even shootings, particularly in southern Egypt.

Early last year, six Christians, as well as a Muslim policeman, were killed in a drive-by shooting at a church. Some linked that shooting to a rape incident.

Egypt's Christians have long complained that they receive unfair treatment, pointing to laws such as those that make it easier to build a mosque than a church. The government insists that all citizens are treated equally.

In response to the Jan. 1 church bombing, the head of the world's Roman Catholics, Pope Benedict, called for more effective steps to protect Christian minorities in Egypt and other predominantly Muslim countries where attacks had happened.

In a statement on Tuesday, Egypt's Foreign Ministry dismissed the pope's statement as “unacceptable interference” in its affairs and recalled its Vatican ambassador to Cairo for consultation. – Reuters


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