CAIRO — It was nearly 9 p.m., but the Church of the Virgin Mary, the heart of the Christian community in a ramshackle neighborhood on Cairo’s outskirts, was alive with activity. One elaborate Coptic wedding ritual was ending, and another was soon to begin. Relatives and friends of the couples crowded the church’s entryway, spilling onto the sidewalks of a busy street that roared with traffic night and day.
That was when the gunfire erupted.
The assailants were masked and riding motorbikes, witnesses said. In a span of seconds, they sprayed the celebrants with bullets and roared off into the night, leaving behind a welter of bleeding bodies and shrieking survivors. Four people were killed, including an 8-year-old girl, and 19 injured, authorities said, in the latest assault on Egypt’s minority Copts.
Coptic Christians, an ancient sect whose adherents have lived in Egypt for centuries, have borne the brunt of escalating violence in the wake of a tumultuous summer that saw Islamist President Mohamed Morsi deposed by the army and replaced by a military-backed interim government. After a bloody crackdown on Morsi’s followers in the Muslim Brotherhood, some sought to make scapegoats of the Christians — infuriated, in particular, when the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, appeared alongside army chief Abdel Fattah Sisi on nationwide television on July 3 to announce that Morsi had been removed from office.
In cosmopolitan Cairo, though, many Copts still felt safe, especially when they were among their own.
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