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In place of wedding for Coptic Christians, a funeral

| Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, 11:40 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian Copts carry coffins down the aisle of the Virgin Mary Coptic Christian church in Cairo's working class neighborhood of Al-Warrak, on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, as thousands attend the funeral of the four victims, gunned down as they attended a wedding the previous evening at the same church.
AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian relative of one of the victims of a shooting spree targeting a wedding at a Cairo Coptic Church is comforted as she mourns at a morgue in the capital on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013.
AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian Coptic man reacts during the funeral service at the Virgin Mary Coptic Christian church of four victims, gunned down as they attended a wedding the previous evening at the same church, in Cairo's working class neighbourhood of Al-Warrak, on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013.

CAIRO — Thousands of Egyptians attended funerals on Monday for victims of a Sunday night drive-by shooting at a Coptic Christian wedding here.

The four victims included two girls, 8 and 12, and the mother of the groom. Seventeen people were injured.

“It's God's will. They are always beating us down. Every other day now, they do this,” Fahmy Azer Abboud, 75, said as he waited for the funeral of his family's wedding party — his son, his wife's sister and two granddaughters —to start. He spoke haltingly of his dead granddaughters, both named Mariam.

The attack by two masked gunmen on motorcycles was the latest in a series of Islamist attacks on minority Christians since the July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The church's pastor, Father Sawiris, said he heard “a lot of gunfire” outside the church.

“There were a lot of people here. There was a wedding every hour between 6 and 10 p.m.,” he said. He blamed the attack on “terrorist groups.”

Bloodstains and bullet holes were visible at the church's gated entry, where police stood guard.

Inside, women in black mourning gowns cried out, one shouting: “Oh, my darling!”

Sami Samir, 36, an electrician and church member, heard the gunfire while sitting in a cafe and “ran to the church and helped to carry the wounded to the ambulances.”

A church deacon, Rafaat Samir, 23, said Christians and Muslims in the crowded neighborhood of Warraq had no problems in the past.

“We work and live together here,” he said. “We don't know who did this. They just want destruction.”

Across Egypt, violence against minority Christians has risen in the past four years, especially since Morsy's ouster. Islamists have looted and burned more than 40 churches since August, mostly in rural areas south of the capital.

Terrorist attacks have exploded in recent months, too, and security forces say they are fighting a low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

In September, Egypt's interim interior minister survived a car-bombing in Cairo. Earlier this month, militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at Cairo's main satellite-communications dish.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based jihadi group, claimed responsibility for car bombings at a military intelligence building in Ismailia and at a Sinai police station. It accused the Egyptian army of ousting Morsy on behalf of “Jews and Christians.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the world's older faiths. Tradition says that St. Mark founded it in the middle of the 1st century A.D.

Copts, the region's largest Christian minority, are 10 to 15 percent of Egypt's 90 million people.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi pledged that the latest “callous and criminal act” will not divide Muslims and Christians.

One Egyptian media report said that several suspects have been arrested, but that could not be confirmed.

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, who heads Al Azhar, the seat of Sunni Islamic learning, condemned the attack as “contrary to both religions and morals.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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