By Tamim El-Elyan
CAIRO: Twelve died and 232 were injured in Saturday’s Imbaba clashes, which were fueled by a rumor that a Christian woman who converted to Islam was being held inside Marimina Church.
Among those killed were four Christians and six Muslims, while two other bodies were still unidentified, according to AFP.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said on Sunday 190 were arrested and would be tried in front of a military court. An officer at the media department of the Ministry of Interior said 159 were arrested.
Victims’ families would be paid LE 5,000 in compensation, and the injured would receive LE 2,000, said Ali Abdel-Rahman, the governor of Giza where Imbaba lies.
A curfew has been imposed in the area around the Imbaba church until 11:00 am (0900 GMT) on Monday, state TV reported.
Eyewitnesses and residents of Luxor Street, where the church is located, provided conflicting accounts of the events. Some told Daily News Egypt that Salafis protested in front of the church against holding a Muslim woman inside, which soon led to clashes with a Coptic owner of a café in front of the church called Adel Labib.
Eyewitnesses said Labib went to the rooftop of the building he owns in front of the church and started shooting at protesters and then other armed men started shooting from the church.
Violent clashes then erupted in Luxor Street between Muslims and Copts after a nearby church was burnt down in Al-Wehda Street, Imbaba.
However, Mina Adel, a Coptic eyewitness, denied that Copts started shooting. “The Salafi protesters are the ones who started shooting at the church when they found Copts forming a human shield to protect the church.”
The SCAF said that a committee will be formed to evaluate the losses of private property and to rebuild all vandalized churches and properties, urging Muslims and Christians to practice self-restraint.
Cabinet said a crisis ministerial meeting will remain in session to follow up on developments.
Minister of Justice Abdel-Aziz El-Guindy said in a press conference Sunday that Cabinet decided to activate all laws pertaining to fighting terrorism, namely Article 86 that criminalizes all attempts to threaten national security including attacking houses of worship.
“All powers will be given to the Ministry of Interior to firmly fight all acts of violence that threaten national security,” said El-Guindy. “All the achievements of the revolution’s government are being threatened by counter-revolution attempts.”
“Egypt has actually become a country in danger,” he added.
Clashes erupted again Sunday morning in Luxor Street and military police arrested many of those fighting while riot police blocked roads leading to the church.
Reports of reconciliation between Copts and Salafis are to be organized by high-ranking police officers.
El-Tahrir Hospital in Imbaba received six of the dead and 81 injured, all of whom were released except five, while three fled the hospital.
Imbaba General Hospital received two of the fatalities and 46 injured, all of whom were released except 10, while five were transferred to Qasr El-Eini Hospital and one to Nasser Institute.
Moataz Abul Azm, head of the emergency room in Qasr El-Eini Hospital, told DNE they received 23 injured on Saturday night as a result of the Imbaba clashes.
He added that 12 were released, while 11 remained hospitalized.
“The injuries are mostly gunshot wounds including a bullet wound to the back and skull, a fracture to the artery in the left thigh and several bullet wounds to the heads of victims, which left skulls fractured,” Abul Azm said.
An official at Nasser Institute, who preferred to remain anonymous because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, told DNE they received 18 injured from Imbaba on Saturday.
He wouldn’t elaborate whether their condition was critical.
Officials at Imbaba General Hospital told DNE that injured Muslims and Copts were separated to avoid clashes.
The injured recounted conflicting reports of how clashes began.
Rimon Hany, a Copt injured with a live shot in the leg, told DNE that Salafis protested in front of the church which prompted Copts to form a human shield around it.
Hany added that Salafis left and then came back with guns and started shooting, confirming that those Salafis were not residents of the neighborhood.
Gasser Abo-Khadra, a cousin of an injured Muslim man, said Salafi protesters were from the neighborhood. Clashes erupted after a fight between a Muslim and a Copt over a girl who was allegedly held inside the church, he claimed.
Senior Researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Sarah Carr said in her report that members of the technically dissolved State Security Investigations (SSI) were mingling with the Central Security Forces (CSF).
“I saw an officer accompanied by around four other men leave the crowd near the cordon and sit in the lobby of a nearby building. In the crowd itself I was stopped by a man in a suit who described himself as ‘head of the media section of the security directorate’,” Carr said.
She added that some crowds were chanting “Muslims and Copts are one hand,” stating that “a distraught woman in a niqab (full face veil often associated with Salafi ideology) cried and condemned the events; another questioned why this was happening when ‘Christians and Muslims were united during the revolution.’”
Carr saw the destruction of the café owned by Labib was done by a group of young men, not necessarily Salafis.
“Only one man was dressed like a Salafi, and the attack — at least by the time we arrived — would seem not to have been carried out by Salafis, at least not in its later stages.” Carr said.
Carr added that two CSF troops were inside the café, but she confirmed that what they were doing inside was unclear, adding that “they were not making any attempt to stop the crowd.” –Additional reporting by Mai Shams El-Din and Heba Fahmy and agencies.
Egyptians gather next to a building belonging to Christians that was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo Sunday, May 8. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Copts attend a prayer service inside the burned Virgin Mary church in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo, Sunday, May 8. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian angry Coptic man (R) talks with Egypt’s Interior Minister Mansour El-Essawy during his visit to the Virgin Mary church in the popular area of Imbaba in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on May 8. (AFP Photo / Khaled Desouki)