Update: Coptic activists demand ‘failed’ minister step down after Warraq

As officials continue to condemn Sunday's Warraq church shooting, in which four Christians including an eight-year-old girl were gunned down outside a wedding, Coptic activists called off a protest outside the Cabinet building.

The Tuesday protest, which the Maspero Youth Union had called to demand the removal of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, was called off last-minute as journalists and police officers waited expectantly outside on Qasr al-Aini street.

"The protest was cancelled because [the organizers] were worried about the Muslim Brotherhood using the protest," Maspero Youth Union member Bishoy Tamry told Egypt Independent. "There were fears the Muslim Brotherhood could provoke security forces and stir clashes with them, or capitalize on the protest."

Tamry explained  there were also fears the Christian group could appear to be aligned with the Brotherhood-affiliated Anti-Coup Alliance.

According to Tamry, Maspero Youth Union representatives meanwhile met with government officials at around 1 pm on Tuesday to discuss their demands.

Those demands include the removal of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and other local security officials in Warraq, compensation for the victims' families and the immediate apprehension of the perpetrators involved in the attack, he added.

Mina Thabet, Coptic activist and founding member of the Maspero Youth Union, told Egypt Independent he met with government officials on Tuesday, part of a Coptic delegation to voice demands.

"We cncelled the protest because we felt [we had a ] responsibility if other people came into the demonstration to make trouble with security forces and make some kind of trouble between Copts and the police," he claimed.

"We demanded the resignation of [Interior Minister] Mohamed Ibrahim, not only because of the Warraq incident, but also because he is a failure," Thabet argued. "He failed to reform the Ministry of Interior and to give us citizens security on the streets."

"He is responsible for this massacre and he is responsible for the lives of Christians – as well as Egyptians as a whole."

Thabet warned that more protests were "on the table" if Coptic demands were not met. "Protests are an option," he said, adding that Coptic activists would wait to assess the Egyptian government's response.

Government officials were unavailable for comment.

Outside the Cabinet, a woman meanwhile stoically held a picture of eight-year-old Mariam Ashraf, one of the four dead in Sunday's shooting.

The other victims have been named as teenager Mariam Nabil, 62-year-old Kamilia Helmy and Samir Fahmy, 77. All died from gunshot wounds.

According to eyewitnesses, two men drove up outside a Christian wedding at the Virgin Mary Church in Cairo's northern Warraq neighbourhood before opening fire on the crowds.

Churchgoers were sprayed with bullets and at least 18 people were injured, some seriously. Four died.

Eyewitnesses claimed the police were slow to respond, echoing similar statements made by Christians since escalations in violence across Egypt after July.

An earlier statement posted on the Maspero Youth Union's Facebook page explicitly blamed the government for the killings.

"The killing and threatening of Copts in front of the church is the responsibility of the Cabinet and of Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy," the statement claimed. 

The Maspero Youth Union also demanded Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim stand trial for "failing to do [his] job."

The Warraq attack has drawn fierce condemnation from Egypt and beyond.

The U.S. State Department's deputy spokesperson Mary Harf called it a "heinous attack."

“We're going to keep making the point that this kind of violence has no place in moving Egypt forward. It will only hinder Egypt's democratic transition process and economic recovery," she told journalists.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also demanded justice for the victims of the attack.

"I call on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the perpetrators of this unacceptable act are promptly brought to justice," she said in a statement Tuesday. "States have an obligation to do everything in their power to prevent acts of violence against persons based on their religion or belief."

Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy also offered his condolences to Coptic Pope Tawadros II in a telephone call on Monday, according to Orthodox Church spokesperson Boulos Haleem.

Egyptian Copts have been consistently targeted since the 3 July overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy, with churches looted and burned down up and down the country.

Some Islamists have blamed the Coptic Church for supporting the armed forces in the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood's president months ago.

Rights group Amnesty International stated in a report that 43 churches were damaged in the aftermath of the 14 August dispersals of two pro-Morsy sit-ins in Rabaa al-Adaweya and Giza's al-Nahda Square.

Copts make up around 10 percent of Egypt's national population.

Mohamed Mustapha contributed to this report.

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