Cairo (AsiaNews) – "Although there are different views and divisions with the government and president Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, it is time to be united against terrorists, against those who want to provoke violence and bring the war to the Sinai peninsula,” said Fr Rafic Greiche as he described the Egyptian people’s current mood following days of Islamist violence.
The clergyman, who is the director of the press office of the Catholic Church in Egypt, told AsiaNews that Egyptians are united, Christians as well as Muslims, in the fight for the nation’s future. In his view, "Rather than fear, what dominates is a feeling of anger, following the prosecutor’s assassination and the attack in Sinai”.
“People are not afraid of bombs and are for all-out fight against jihadists . . . together with the president and all those fighting against terrorism." still, the security in Egypt is deteriorating.
On Monday, State Prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated in a Cairo car bombing. He played a crucial role in the fight against the country’s Islamist groups and was the most senior government official killed by jihadist insurgents.
Likewise, Egyptian authorities said that the army would continue its offensive in the Sinai Peninsula, after clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants left more than 100 dead.
As air strikes continued into the early hours of Thursday, security and medical officials announced that 70 soldiers but also several civilians were killed. Some 38 militants were also killed.
In a statement, the army said that operations in the region would not stop until the area is cleared of all "terrorist concentrations”.
Yesterday's attack was one of the most far-reaching, coordinated assaults by the Islamic state group in Egypt. "It's unprecedented in the number of terrorists involved and the type of weapons they are using," a senior military official explained.
Last October, the government imposed a curfew and state of emergency in the Sinai, following the killing of dozens of soldiers in an attack by militants.
Since 2013, when President Mohammed Morsi was deposed, who was close to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, more than 600 soldiers and policemen were killed in the region.
As part of their ongoing fight against terrorism, police carried out an operation yesterday against a Muslim Brotherhood cell led by Nasser al-Houfi. The head of the Islamist group and eight members were killed during the raid.
Although the prosecutor’s assassination showed the flaws in the country’s anti-terrorism fight, "today the security situation is normal," Fr Rafic Greiche said.
"It was well known that Hisham Barakat was one of the main targets of terrorists,” he said. However, “It is not easy to explain why security measures around him by the police and the intelligence service were relaxed.” There were flagrant errors. "It is not clear why the guard was dropped.”
For Fr Rafic, the fight against terrorism is "the government’s number one priority“. The authorities have openly referred to it as a “war".
"At least 200 people" entered the Sinai Peninsula yesterday to carry out the attack. "Most of the fighters come from abroad. They are not Egyptians."
It is widely believed, he added, that jihadist fighters "are carrying out terrorist actions to promote the Muslim Brotherhood, fight the president and create a climate of instability."
Right now, "Egypt is like a sandwich,” said the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, “surrounded by unstable countries threatened by jihadists like Libya, Sudan, the Sinai Peninsula . . . and Syria and Iraq."
The fight against terrorism must be a "global commitment"; however, "we often feel abandoned”. What is more, “there are international organisations and intelligence services who do not want stability."
Fortunately, there are examples of collaboration between Christians and Muslims, especially at this time of prayer and fasting [Ramadan], which become "a source of hope for the future". (DS)
According to Fr Greiche, a spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, militants want to "purify Egypt and the Middle East of the Christian presence." The attack on the eve of Ramadan is the "the worst advertisement". It is a sad moment for Egypt and “Muslims who want to live peace". Tonight, prayers and services will be held in memory of the victims.
Extremist militias view non-Wahhabis as enemies to attack, says Fr Rafic Greiche. The Sinai has a long history of violence, with churches and priests seen as “legitimate targets”. It is “no accident” that a Coptic priest was recently killed on the anniversary of Morsi’s ouster.
In recent weeks hundreds of Christian families targeted by the Islamic State have abandoned al-Arish. The government prepared to cover the costs of accommodation, food and schooling for displaced persons. By jihadists have lists with the names of the Copts to be executed. Criticism of the authorities and the army for not intervening in time.
News about violence against Copts have disappeared from Egyptian media. For the government, the crisis has been resolved. International conferences continue. The one organised by Al-Azhar ended yesterday with no results. More than 1,500 Christians have fled from El Arīsh.