A knife-wielding man in Egypt stabbed a Coptic Orthodox priest several times in the neck, which led to his death. The country’s interior ministry says the accused, a 60-year-old man, has been arrested.
Arsanios Wadeed, an archpriest of the Church of the Virgin Mary and Mar Bolous in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, was stabbed Thursday while he was walking in the Corniche area, a popular seaside promenade, Egypt Independent reported.
Egypt’s Ministry of Interior announced Friday that the suspect had been arrested.
“The security services of the Alexandria Security Directorate were able to arrest a 60-year-old man who assaulted a Christian cleric while walking on the Corniche in the Sidi Bishr area of Alexandria using a knife he possessed,” it said in a statement, adding that the priest died while being treated in a hospital.
The accused had not been identified as of early Saturday, and the motive of the stabbing also remained unclear.
The Coptic Church posted photos on social media showing the priest’s funeral at the Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria Friday, according to ABC News, which said a Bible was placed on the priest’s chest and a cross around his neck.
“While many details about the incident remain unclear, it does highlight the vulnerability that many Egyptian Christians face, particularly during the religious holidays of Ramadan and Easter,” Jeff King, president of the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, said in a statement.
“It is normal for Christians to face increased persecution during these seasons, and such an incident could inspire further acts of extremism,” he warned.
King added, “Unfortunately, within the Egyptian context, it is common for the attacker to be accused of having a mental illness rather than addressing underlying extremist motivations. This trend is not only a disservice to authentic religious freedom, but also increases the marginalization of those with genuine disabilities.”
The Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population, are the descendants of a long line of ancient Egyptians who later converted to Christianity in the early first century, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
According to the persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA, Egypt is among the 20 worst persecutors of Christians in the world.
Incidents of Christian persecution in Egypt vary from Christian women being harassed while walking in the street to Christian communities being driven out of their homes by extremist mobs, the group says on its website, adding that Christians are typically treated as second-class citizens.
Egypt’s government speaks positively about the Egyptian Christian community, but the lack of serious law enforcement and the unwillingness of local authorities to protect Christians leave them vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, especially in Upper Egypt, it explains. “Due to the dictatorial nature of the regime, neither church leaders nor other Christians are in a position to speak out against these practices.”
Churches and Christian nongovernmental organizations are restricted in their ability to build new churches or run social services, it adds. “The difficulties come both from state restrictions, as well as from communal hostility and mob violence.”