Thursday, January 13, 2011
By Samer al-Atrush
Agence France Presse
CAIRO: Egyptian authorities denied Wednesday that a policeman suspected of murdering a Christian and wounding five others on a train acted for sectarian reasons, contradicting claims he had singled out Christians.
The shooting came 10 days after a suicide bomber killed 23 people outside an Alexandria church.
Prosecutors were questioning 23-year-old off-duty policeman Amer Ashour Abdel-Zaher, said to have boarded the train near the southern town of Samalut Tuesday night and opened fire on passengers. A 71-year-old Coptic man was killed and his wife and four other Copts were wounded.
The attack sparked a protest outside a hospital in Samalut by hundreds of Copts whom police dispersed using tear gas.
A security official said Abdel-Zaher, who was quickly arrested, told interrogators he had felt “irritated and frustrated” because he was short of money. He did not say that he specifically targeted Christians.
Ahmad Diaa al-Din, governor of Minya, where Samalut is located, denied the attack was religiously motivated.
“It has to do with his personal mental state. It had nothing to do with the religion of his victims,” he told A.F.P. “He boarded the train suddenly and emptied his pistol.”
He said the man tried to shoot two Muslims who wrestled with him but had run out of ammunition.
One of the passengers told the official MENA news agency Abdel-Zaher began shooting passengers on the right of the carriage as soon as he boarded and then took aim at passengers on the other side, but his ammunition was spent.
A judicial source said Abdel-Zaher had been remanded into custody for two weeks on suspicion of committing premeditated murder.
A security official said police increased their presence in the area and were on alert for further unrest.
The attack took place hours after Egypt said it had recalled its ambassador to the Vatican over remarks by Pope Benedict XVI it described as “interference.” The pontiff has repeatedly expressed his solidarity with the Copts and called on world leaders to protect them after the Alexandria bombing.
The Vatican’s foreign minister, said the Holy See wished to avoid escalation of religious tensions in Egypt. The Vatican “completely shares the [Egyptian] government’s concern with ‘avoiding an escalation of clashes and religious tensions,’ and appreciates its efforts in this direction,” a spokesman quoted Dominique Mamberti as saying in a meeting with the recalled ambassador.