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The New Arab & agencies

Egypt mob ransacks unlicensed church south of Cairo

Archive Photo: Sectarian violence occasionally erupts, mainly in rural communities in the south [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 December, 2017

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Hundreds of Egyptians ransacked an unlicensed church south of Cairo and called for it to be demolished, in the latest assault on members of the country's Coptic minority.

Hundreds of Egyptians ransacked an unlicensed church south of Cairo and called for it to be demolished, the region's diocese said, in the latest assault on members of the country's Coptic minority.

The attack on the church in Atfeeh, 100 kilometres from the capital, took place on Friday after weekly Muslim prayers, the diocese said on its Facebook page.

"They stormed the place and destroyed what was inside it, after assaulting the Christians there," the diocese said.

Hundreds of people massed in front of the building, chanting "hostile" slogans and calling for the church to be demolished, it said.

The diocese added the Prince Tawadros church had been used for almost 15 years and had applied for a licence under a law passed last year meant to ease permits for new churches.

Several churches, especially ones that have yet to be licensed by the government, have come under attack by local Muslims in the conservative south of the country.

Video footage of the mob outside the church has been widely shared on social media, with many harshly criticising the attack.

Local authorities often refuse to give building permits for new churches, fearing protests by Muslim conservatives.

That has prompted Christians to illegally build churches or set up pray halls in other buildings. In contrast, there are few restrictions to building mosques.

Egypt's Coptic Christians comprise up to 10 percent of the country's 93 million people and are the Middle East's largest religious minority.

Sectarian violence occasionally erupts, mainly in rural communities in the south.

Egypt's Christian minority has often been targeted by Islamic militants in a series of attacks since December 2016 that left more than 100 dead and scores wounded.

The country has been under a state of emergency since April after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday in an attack that was claimed by the Egyptian affiliate the Islamic State group.

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