CAIRO – Egypt’s prime minister called for an emergency Cabinet meeting Sunday, a day after officials reported at least 10 people were killed and 186 in sectarian clashes outside a Cairo church, CNN reports.
Officials said the violence began over rumors that a Christian woman who converted to Islam was being held at the church against her will.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf postponed a trip to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the church attack, according to EgyNews, Egypt’s official news agency. Egyptian state TV said 10 people died and 186 were wounded in the violence Saturday.
Tensions between Egypt’s Muslim majority and its Coptic Christian minority have been on the rise in recent months, with a number of violent clashes reported between the two groups. During clashes on Saturday, witnesses said an armed group of Muslims marched on Saint Mena Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt.
Witnesses said Muslims and Christians exchanged gunfire, sending people running for cover.
“With my own eyes I saw three people killed and dozens injured,” said Mina Adel, a Christian resident. “There’s no security here. There’s a big problem. People attacked us, and we have to protect ourselves.”
There were conflicting reports about who attacked the church. Some witnesses said the group was made up of Muslim fundamentalists, known as Salafists. Others, including Interior Ministry spokesman Alla Mahmoud, said it was angry Muslims from a nearby mosque.
Mahmoud said the clashes were sparked by reports of a Christian woman who married a Muslim man and was allegedly being held inside the church.
Military, special forces and riot police were called in to try to break up the violence, firing warning shots in the air, according to witnesses.
At the same time, at the nearby Coptic Church of the Holy Virgin, firefighters responded to a blaze that witnesses said appeared to have been started by the members of the same group that attacked the other church.