Benghazi, 14 March 2013:
Benghazi’s main Coptic Church was set on fire by arsonists today, Thursday. The building is said to have been severely damaged inside.
No one was hurt in the attack. The attackers whose identity is unknown are said to have told members of the church to get out of the building. The priest was taken to the residence of Egyptian consul for safety.
It is reported in Cairo that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has condemned the attack and said it would pursue the matter with the Libyan government.
It is the second attack in a fortnight on the church. On Thursday, 28 February, assailants assaulted and the priest and an assistant. In that instance, the attackers were said to be hardline Islamists. The incident, which was subsequently condemned by the government, followed the arrest of a number of Copts in Benghazi accused of proselytizing. The allegations turned out to be unfounded and were dropped although the Egyptians were then deported; it was reported that they were in Libya illegally.
Reports in Benghazi say today’s attack was in revenge for Monday’s assault at the Libyan embassy in Cairo when dozens of Copts threw stones, tore down the embassy’s nameplate and burned the Libyan flag. The demonstration followed allegations that an Egyptian Christian who died in jail in Tripoli the previous day had been tortured to death.
Following the earlier attack on the church and the government’s condemnation, guards were supposedly provided to ensure security.
In December, two Egyptians were killed when the Coptic church in Misrata was bombed.
Yesterday, the EU Delegation issued a statement saying it was deeply concerned about religious freedom in Libya. [/restrict]