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Egyptian Muslim detained with knife

Published: 7:55AM Tuesday April 18, 2006 Source: Reuters

Egyptian authorities on Monday ordered the detention of a Muslim who entered a Cairo church with a knife, security sources said, days after another Muslim stabbed six Christians, killing one, in Alexandria. Police arrested the 25-year-old unemployed man on Sunday when he went into the church, where Coptic Christians were celebrating Palm Sunday.

Prosecutors ordered on Monday that he be held for four days for questioning on suspicion of intending to commit a crime.

A security source said in comments carried by the official MENA news agency that a man trying to enter the church to steal had been detained. The source, who did not mention the man's religion, said the man was not carrying a weapon.

The source quoted by MENA said the man, named as 21-year-old Zakaria el-Sayed Zakaria Morsi, had been arrested and charged for crimes including theft on previous occasions.

The knife attack on Friday in an Alexandria church provoked clashes between Christians and Muslims in the city on Egypt's northern coast on the following two days.

A Muslim was clubbed over the head and died in the violence and 55 people were arrested.

The authorities detained 52 people for 15 days for questioning over the violence, MENA said earlier on Monday, adding that 50 people were already under investigation.

Authorities say the Alexandria attacker is mentally ill, but Copts have said they are making excuses for an increasing number of attacks on Christians. An Interior Ministry official said the man arrested in Alexandria was taking revenge for insults to the Prophet Mohammed, apparently a reference to cartoons of the Prophet published in a Danish newspaper and elsewhere.

In October, three people died in Alexandria in clashes with police during protests by Muslims over a church play which they said was offensive to Islam.

Coptic Christians comprise 5 to 10% of Egypt's 73 million people, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.

There have been sporadic outbreaks of violence between Christians and Muslims. In 1999, 22 people were killed in communal strife in southern Egypt.