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Egyptian Christian fatally shot, 5 wounded, aboard train

Egyptian Coptic Christians are shot by a Muslim police officer aboard a train less than two weeks after a church bombing, an Egyptian Interior Ministry official is quoted as saying.

January 11, 2011|By Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Cairo and Juba, Sudan — An off-duty policeman opened fire aboard a train Tuesday in southern Egypt, killing one Christian and wounding five less than two weeks after the New Year's Day bombing at a church in Alexandria that killed 25 Coptic Christians, according to the state news agency.

There were few details on the incident and it was unclear whether the shooting was sectarian related. The state news agency, MENA, quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying a Muslim police officer boarded a Cairo-bound train in the town of Samalut in Minya province and began firing a handgun. The official said a 71-year-old Coptic man was killed and his wife and four other Christians — three women and a man — were wounded.

The policeman, Amer Ashour Abdel Zaher, fled but was arrested later. The train originated in Asyut, which like Samalut has a large Christian community.

The shooting comes as Copts are on edge over what they view as the government's inability to heal the nation's sectarian divide and stop a spate of extremist violence. Egypt's Christian community is still shaken from the bombing at All Saints Church in Alexandria.

No one has been charged in the bombing, which came after an Al Qaeda-linked organization threatened to attack Coptic churches in Egypt. The investigation of that attack was marred over the weekend when it was disclosed that a suspect died in police custody, triggering demonstrations against alleged brutality toward prisoners.

Detained along with other Islamic extremist suspects after the bombing, Mohamed Sayed Belal died Thursday. Belal's brother told Egyptian news media that the 32-year-old suspect had been beaten to death. An Alexandria prosecutor ordered an investigation and announced that an initial examination did not reveal the cause of death.

Belal's death came after that last year of a 28-year-old Alexandria man, allegedly at the hands of two police officers, now on trial. That case sparked nationwide fury over Egypt's record of beating and torturing suspects and detainees.

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

Times news assistant Hassan reported from Cairo and staff writer Fleishman from Juba.

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