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Egypt’s Coptic Christians Prepare to Celebrate Christmas Eve Mass Amid Tight Security

Egyptian Coptic priests pray during Christmas mass at Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo (file photo)

Egyptian Coptic priests pray during Christmas mass at Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo (file photo)

Egypt’s Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III has called for his community to celebrate orthodox Christmas as usual, starting with midnight mass. But services will commence with security forces are on high alert to prevent threatened terrorist attacks by al-Qaida.

Egyptian security forces deployed in force in front of the Saint Mary Coptic church in the upscale Cairo suburb of Zamalek. Metal barricades blocked parts of roads and police kept motorists from parking too close to the building.

Related video report by Elizabeth Lee

One Christian man who asked not to use his name told VOA he is fearful that "despite all the security measures being deployed by the government, the terrorists will still try to strike."

The al-Qaida terrorist group has urged its followers to attack Coptic churches in Egypt on several militant Islamic web sites.

Mark, another young Coptic Christian told VOA that he was "not afraid to die" and that he planned to attend midnight mass as usual." Coptic Pope Shenouda III has told his followers that he would "not allow the terrorists to spoil Christmas celebrations."

Many Islamic leaders have asked their followers to show solidarity with Copts and to form human shields around churches to prevent terrorism or violence. A Sheikh in the Cairo suburb of Helwan said Muslims must condemn terrorism.

He says he is asking the entire Egyptian population to form a solid front against the "terrorist explosion in front of Alexandria’s All Saints Coptic church Saturday."

Coptic Church leaders have been urging their followers not to take out their anger against Muslims for Saturday’s terrorist explosion, but to show love instead.

The Bishop of Helwan, Anba Pacenti, insisted that everyone should be kind to one another, and not seek revenge.

He said that love means that we all ask for a sign of love from one another, offering a kind word or a good deed, and to love everyone.

The Egyptian press noted General Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud has made "significant progress" in the investigation of the church bombing that killed 23 people, most of them Coptic Christians, Saturday in Alexandria. The interior ministry also published a sketch of a man it says blew himself up in front of the church.

Meanwhile, government officials sent a message urging tolerance among Egyptians and intolerance for terrorism. Parliament Speaker Ahmed Fathi Sarour says that Egyptians must not turn against each other, because that is what the terrorists are seeking.

He says that the goal of the terrorist is to create horror and fear and these feelings prompt people to become suspicious and stop associating with each other. He insists that if this is what happens we have given the terrorist what he wants, so people must instead upset the terrorists' plans.

The Egyptian government is asking Coptic Christians not to congregate in front of churches after midnight mass to avoid giving terrorists any possible targets. A shooter killed more than half a dozen Copts in front of a church after Christmas eve mass last year in the town of Nag Hammadi.

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