Egypt PM says verdict still out on church attacks

CAIRO (AFP) — Egypt’s prime minister has said the verdict is still out on official claims that the recent attacks on churches that left one man dead were committed by a mentally unstable man. Meanwhile, a senior Coptic cleric added his doubts on the official statements and said wider tensions were behind the attacks.

“During the investigation, we must not be hasty. I would rather not say this man is crazy or not, because hastiness detracts from credibility and could lead to a more serious crisis,” Ahmed Nazif told Al Ahram daily in an interview published Saturday.

“There are some local or police officials who rush to say `this must be a madman’… There is currently an investigative team doing its work and it will decide if it was a madman or not.”

For his part, Anba Mussa, an archbishop with close ties to the head of the Coptic Pope Shenuda III, expressed his surprise at the government’s version of events.

“We are surprised by the statement of a single assailant. How did he go from one church to another with a knife and blood-soiled clothes,” Mussa asked.

“I am also surprised by the premise of a mentally unstable person, because proving this would need several days of medical tests,” he added.

Last week, 78-year-old Noshi Atta Girgis was killed by a knife-wielding assailant who attacked three churches in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

The interior ministry said 25-year-old Mahmud Salaheddin Abdul Razek had been arrested, and described him as “mentally unstable.”

The archbishop said he believes “the aim of the comments were to restore calm” but that the church interpreted the attacks as signs of deeper tensions.

“The war against terror and the prophet cartoons are at the root of the international tensions. The war against Iraq created regional tension, and locally there are several reasons including religious extremism… unemployment and poor economic conditions,” said Mussa. Pope Shenuda, who is close to the regime, has not commented on the attacks because he has been on his annual pre-Easter retreat, Mussa added.

The interior ministry’s claim sparked the fury of Egypt’s Coptic community, which echoed the cleric’s views.

“The situation is more dangerous than we imagine,” Munir Fakhri Abdelnour, a senior member of Egypt’s liberal Wafd Party and a Copt told AFP last week. In the interview, the prime minister admitted to “tensions in the country” but would not call them a “sectarian divide.”

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