Egypt beefs up security after al-Qaida threat
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 9:05 AM
LUXOR, Egypt -- Egyptian police on Tuesday beefed up security measures for a Coptic festival being held in the ancient city of Luxor after a recent al-Qaida threat to Christians in the Middle East, a security official said.
The measures came after the deadly attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad that killed 58 people and wounded nearly 80 when militants stormed the church during Sunday Mass.
Al-Qaida in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet message and tied it to claims that the Coptic Church in Egypt is holding women who have converted to Islam.
The group gave the church 48 hours to release the women and threatened that if they were not freed, al-Qaida would attack Christians across the Middle East.
The message specifically mentioned two Egyptian women, who are wives of Coptic priests. Some believe they converted to Islam to leave their husbands since divorce is banned by Egypt's Coptic Church.
As many as 2 million Coptic Christians are expected to attend the two-week festivities in Luxor, which kicked off Tuesday.
A top Luxor security official said new check points were set up on the road leading up to the monastery of Saint Girgis on Zuriyqat mountain, where Christians gather to celebrate the birthday of the saint.
The official said the extra security measures will remain in place in Luxor until the festival is over. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
Over the past few years, Christian women, allegedly converting to Islam, have became a rallying point for hardline Islamists in Egypt. They claim the two mentioned in al-Qaida's message are held against their will in Egyptian monasteries to be forced to return to Christianity.
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.