There were nine of us in the church during the attack. We first heard yells and the sounds of a crowd approaching. Then we heard footsteps on the church roof, which young men had climbed down on from a neighbouring house. A few seconds later, dozens of people burst into the church, through the doors and windows.
Most of the attackers were in their twenties, but there were about a dozen older bearded men and even a couple of women. The younger attackers had rocks, knives, and even Molotov cocktails. They pillaged the church and stole statuettes and the silverware used during mass. They insulted and attacked us; several of my colleagues were injured. Thankfully, some Muslims intervened and helped us escape through the church’s backdoor. We left right before they set fire to the church. We lost Bibles that were at least a century old.
The fire inside Archangel Saint Michael. Notice the islamic sayings scrawled on the outer wall.
I don’t believe that the attackers were merely thugs who wanted to steal: they were chanting ‘islamiya, islamiya’ [Islamic, Islamic], insulting the Pope, and saying they wanted to transform the church into a mosque. They wrote Morsi’s name and Islamic sayings on the church walls, and a bearded man wearing a djellaba sawed off the wooden cross at the altar.
Firefighters first went to the police station to put out the fire there. But once they got to the church, the attackers prevented them from even reaching the building. It’s the first time our church is attacked in this manner, and some members of our community are traumatised. The army has promised they would fix up the church, but some Coptic families have already started leaving the neighbourhood.