Egypt's Coptic Christians flee Sinai after deadly attacks

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Coptic Christians sit in the courtyard of the Evangelical Church in Ismailiya, Egypt. Photo: 24 February 2017Image source, AFP
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More Christian refugees from Sinai are expected to arrive in Ismailiya

Dozens of Coptic Christian families in Egypt have fled North Sinai province after a number of killings in recent weeks by suspected Islamist militants.

Many have now taken refuge in the Evangelical Church in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya.

The Coptic Church has condemned the attacks, saying they were aimed at "dividing" Egyptians.

On Sunday, Islamic State militants released a video, warning of more attacks on Egypt's Christian minority.

The Copts - who make up about 10% of the country's 90 million population - have often been targeted by Islamists in recent years.

Most of the Islamist militant attacks of recent years have been focused on the Sinai peninsula, where an IS-linked jihadist group is active, but the capital Cairo has also suffered a string of attacks in the past two years.

'Scared of our shadows'

About 250 Christians with their belongings were now in Ismailiya's church, deacon Nabil Shukrallah said on Friday.

"They've come running with their children. It's a very difficult situation. We're expecting 50 or 60 more," he told the AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, refugees said they were now "scared of our shadows", adding that they "are being targeted in an ugly way".

Many of them were from the city of El-Arish, where at least seven Christians have been killed.

Egypt has seen a wave of attacks by militants since 2013 when the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, an elected leader who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, and launched a crackdown against Islamists.

Some of Mr Morsi's supporters blamed Christians for supporting the overthrow.

What is the Coptic Christian faith?

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian Church in Egypt. While most Copts live in Egypt, the Church has about a million members outside the country.

Copts believe that their Church dates back to around 50 AD, when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria - the head of their church.

This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land.

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Coptic Christians are a significant minority in Egypt

The Church separated from other Christian denominations at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in a dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ.

The early Church suffered persecution under the Roman Empire, and there were intermittent persecutions after Egypt became a Muslim country. Many believe that continues to this day.