Cablegate: Upper Egypt Sectarian Attack Update

DE RUEHEG #0141/01 0281600
R 281559Z JAN 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 000141


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/28

REF: CAIRO 59; 08 CAIRO 2515

CLASSIFIED BY: Donald A. Blome, Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs, State, ECPO; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. Key Points: - (SBU) On January 17, Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) announced that the trial of the three suspects in the January 6 attack on Coptic Christians in Naga Hamadi, Qena Governorate, will begin on February 13 (ref A). - (SBU) The three suspects will be tried under Emergency Law procedures in the Qena Court of Appeals, a court of first instance for serious crimes, convened as the "Qena Emergency State Security Court." Although the suspects are charged with offences under Egypt's criminal code, under Emergency Law procedures, they will have no right to appeal. - (C) Many contacts remain skeptical of the GoE's initial claim that the killings were in retaliation for the alleged November rape of a Muslim girl by a Coptic man in the nearby village of Farshoot. A respected local human rights group told a visiting delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that it believes that the attack is connected to a long-term political rivalry between Naga Hamadi's bishop and a local politician. - (SBU) In a speech delivered on January 24, President Mubarak acknowledged sectarian tensions created by "extremism," called on religious leaders to contain discord, and pledged to deal harshly with anyone fueling sectarianism. - (C) According to a Coptic Church official, 15 Copts arrested in the violence following the attack remain in custody, and reports of subsequent arrests of Coptic men in the area are not accurate. Thirteen Muslims arrested in connection with the violence also reportedly remain in custody. ------------------------------ The Crime and Charges ------------------------------

2. (SBU) In a January 24 meeting, Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights Wael Aboul Magd told the USCIRF delegation that the shooting began when the suspects opened fire on a group of people who had just left Christmas eve mass, near the residence of Naga Hamadi's bishop, Kyrolos. According to Aboul Magd, the suspects then drove towards the main church in Naga Hamadi and fired - near a cafC) - at others who had left mass. The suspects continued down the road, and at an intersection, stopped a taxi, pulled the driver from the car - whom they apparently recognized as a Muslim - and shot the three passengers, two Copts and a Muslim, who was an off-duty policeman.

3. (SBU) The three suspects were arrested on January 8, and according to local human rights groups on Coptic contatcs, there is little doubt that the arrested men were the attackers. Egypt's Public Prosecutor charged the three suspects with premeditated murder, attempted murder and weapons offences, all penal code, not Emergency Law, crimes. Because they will be tried in an Emergency Law court, if convicted, the suspects will have no appeal rights, although they may request a review of any sentence. While there have been media reports that a fourth suspect was arrested for providing weapons to the suspects, the GoE has not confirmed the arrest. -------------------------------------- CAIRO 00000141 002 OF 003 Rumors of a Political Motive --------------------------------------

4. (C) The motive for the attack remains unclear. Although a number of GoE officials announced that the motive was the November 2009 alleged rape of a 12-year old Muslim girl by a Coptic man in his early twenties, few here are convinced. Bishop Thomas of Kus'eah, an advocate for the rights of poor, rural Copts who presides over a diocese in Upper Egypt, told us that he believes widely reported rumors that the attack was related to a political power struggle between the bishop of Naga Hamadi and the local member of parliament (MP), Abdel Rahman al Ghoul, of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Bishop Thomas told us, however, that he had no evidence to support this theory.

5. (C) The Egyptian Initiaitve for Personal Rights (EIPR), a respected human rights group, also believes that the attack was related to politics. According to Hossam Baghat, EIPR Director, Naga Hamadi's Coptic bishop, Kyrolos, who has held his position since 1977, has long been active in the NDP and local politics. According to Baghat, Kyrolos and MP al Ghoul, who was first elected to parliament in the late 1970's, are bitter political rivals and al Ghoul blamed Kyrolos for the loss of his parliamentary seat in a 2000 election, claiming that Kyrolos ordered Naga Hamadi's large Coptic minority to vote against him. After what Baghat called a campaign of intimidation against Naga Hamadi's Copts, al Ghoul recaptured his parliamentary seat in a 2005 election. According to Baghat, Hamam al Kamouni, lead suspect in the current case, orchestrated the 2005 campaign of intimidation on al Ghoul's behalf. While Baghot believes al Kamouni and the two suspects arrested with him are directly responsible for the January 6 attack, he is critical of the GoE for so far not looking more broadly at the suspects' motives. Baghat's opinion is that the attack was an attempt to either kill or intimidate Bishop Kyrolos to prevent him from influencing the outcome of the 2010 parliamentary elections.

6. (C) Baghat is dismissive of the GoE's initial claim that the attack was revenge for the November rape. According to Baghat, the attack does not fit the pattern of a traditional Upper Egyptian vendetta. Baghat noted that most vendetta killings come soon after the initial incident, not two months later, and generally are carried out by family members of the victim against family members of the perpetrator. According to Baghat, the lead suspect is not related to the alleged rape victim, while the other two are only distant relatives. Baghat also discounted religious fanaticism as a motive, noting that the suspects, especially Kamouni, are considered to be "local thugs" and Muslims "in name only." In any case, the attack occurred in an area considered rife with sectarian tensions (ref B). -------------------- Mubarak Speaks --------------------

7. (SBU) In a January 25th speech, President Mubarak said that "this criminal attack has pained the hearts of all Egyptians, Muslims and Copts alike." He called on "all wise Egyptians - clergy, intellectuals, and the media - to shoulder the responsibility of overcoming the sedition, ignorance and blind fanaticism which threaten the unity of our society and which tarnish the image of Egypt." Mubarak threatened "harsh measures" against anybody fueling sectarianism. ---------------------------- On-Going Detentions ---------------------------- CAIRO 00000141 003 OF 003

8. (C) According to Bishop Johanna, secretary to Pope Shenouda, 15 Copts arrested in the violence that followed the attack remain in GoE custody, without charges. Local media report that 13 Muslims also remain in custody. According to EIPR's Baghat, the Copts have been "physically mistreated" in custody. SCOBEY

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