Egypt charges man with murder in Christian shooting


A Muslim policeman charged with shooting a Christian man dead on a train in southern Egypt will be tried in a state security court for premeditated murder, the state news agency said.

Rights groups have criticised security courts, which were established under an emergency law, saying the government uses them to secure swift and often harsh verdicts that cannot be appealed.

Five other people were wounded in Tuesday’s shooting, which has fuelled new tensions in the Muslim majority country after a January 1 church bombing in Alexandria killed up to 23 people and sparked several days of protests by Christians, Reuters reports.

Authorities have denied the train shooting was sectarian, but it nevertheless stirred further protests among Christians, estimated to make up about a tenth of Egypt’s roughly 80 million people.

The public prosecutor charged suspected gunman Amer Ashour Abdel-Zaher with premeditated murder, “the use of force, violence and intimidation to disrupt security and public order” and “endangering security on public transport”, the MENA news agency reported.

The church bombing was unusual in Egypt, where sectarian violence is often linked to local issues like land disputes, interfaith romances and family vendettas. Analysts have pointed to it as evidence of a widening sectarian rift.

The attack kindled protests among Egypt’s Christians and prompted Pope Benedict, head of the world’s Roman Catholics, to call on Egypt to better protect its Christian minorities, which Cairo dismissed as “unacceptable interference” in its affairs.

The bombing also drew fresh attention to long-running grievances among Egypt’s Christians, many of whom complain they are overlooked for government jobs and must surmount excessive bureaucratic hurdles to build churches.

The government insists all citizens are treated equally.

A drive-by shooting early last year, which some linked to a rape case, killed six Christians and a Muslim guard outside a church in Nagaa Hamady in southern Egypt. Three men are on trial for that crime, also in a state security court, and a ruling is expected next week.