'Foul play' believed to be behind systematic fires at Egypt's Coptic churches: security source
The state security agency has launched "a state of high alert" in search of "a terrorist group allegedly responsible for the recent systematic attacks against Coptic Orthodox churches across Egypt," a high-level security source claimed to The New Arab.
The source's statements lead more weight to the growing belief in the Egyptian street that "foul play" was involved in the recent fires.
The Egyptian authorities have thus far denied any criminal intent behind the incidents, despite six similar fires flaring up in a matter of eight days in the Egyptian capital, in Giza province west of Cairo, in southern Egypt and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Most of the fires, according to officials, were caused by a short circuit in a power generator.
"After inspecting and analysing the crime scenes of the burned down churches and the operations carried out against Christians in Egypt, it turned out that the perpetrators were the same in each one, carrying out similar steps each time," the source said to The New Arab, on condition of anonymity as they are unauthorised to speak to the media.
According to the source, a report prepared by the terrorist activity department at the state security agency outlines how the incidents were carefully planned and were not random.
The first church fire that broke out on 14 July, which killed 41 dead, including the priest and 15 children, coincided with the ninth anniversary of the Rabaa Massacre. The official narrative was that the fire resulted from an electrical fault in a power generator.
In 2013, hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood held sit-ins in the Rabaa neighbourhood in Cairo and Nahda in Giza to demand the return of the first democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed by the then-defence minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
Security forces then cracked down on the sit-in, killing hundreds of protesters. The Muslim Brotherhood was then deemed illegal in Egypt in 2014.
However, it remains unclear whether the massacre's anniversary has anything to do with the sudden fires.
Meanwhile, the source said that coordination has begun between different security authorities in the country, including the general intelligence agency, to detect, monitor and apprehend the alleged terrorist group.
Sectarian violence in Egypt occasionally erupts, mainly in rural communities in the south. Islamist extremists have also targeted Christians in the past. Christians make up approximately 10 to 15 per cent of the 103 million population of Muslim-majority Egypt.
Before the fires, Christians suffered other forms of assault. Last month, two knife-yielding men assaulted an Orthodox Coptic owner of a warehouse of alcoholic beverages and his son in Giza province, leaving both in critical condition.
Earlier in April, a man killed a Coptic priest at a seaside promenade in Alexandria. He was sentenced to death by a criminal court in the same month.
Most of Egypt's Christians are Coptic Orthodox and are among the world's oldest Christian communities.