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Egyptian security forces storm community held by Morsi supporters

September 16, 2013|By Laura King and Ingy Hassieb
  • Egyptian Christian villagers clean up after Islamists looted and burned the chapel inside the Virgin Mary and St. Abraam Monastery in Dalga.
Egyptian Christian villagers clean up after Islamists looted and burned… (Roger Anis / Associated…)

CAIRO -- Egyptian security forces on Monday stormed a community where supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi had seized control weeks earlier, news reports and officials said.

The Coptic Christian minority in Dalga, about 190 miles south of Cairo, had reported a harsh campaign of intimidation by militants who burned churches and shook them down for protection money. About one-sixth of the town’s 120,000 residents are Christians.

In the wake of the dawn offensive, residents told the Associated Press that they were ordered to stay indoors and that entrances into the community were sealed off while security forces conducted house-to-house searches for Islamist militants. Army helicopters hovered overhead.

Christians in Dalga became the targets of reprisal attacks after Morsi was ousted in an army-backed coup on July 3. Six weeks later, hundreds of the deposed president’s followers were killed by security forces who broke up sprawling pro-Morsi protest camps in the capital and elsewhere. After that lethal assault, the situation in Dalga worsened, with local police fleeing and the Islamists holding sway.

Egypt has been roiled by turmoil since the massive popular uprising that drove autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected president, but his yearlong rule was deeply unpopular, and many Egyptians applauded when security forces pushed him aside and launched a crackdown on his followers in the Muslim Brotherhood.

In recent weeks, however, the crackdown has expanded in its political scope, moving beyond the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups to target a range of activists, including academics and journalists.

The interim government last week extended a nationwide state of emergency that gives the authorities broad powers to suppress dissent, and a curfew imposed more than a month ago remains in force, though its hours have been shortened.

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