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Villagers mourn dead in shooting spree, Muslim radicals suspected

March 15, 1997

EZBET DAWOUD, Egypt (AP) _ Muslim women in black robes moved from house to house in this tiny village Saturday, offering condolences to Christians and Muslims whose loved ones were gunned down, apparently by Islamic militants.

Neighborhoods are separated by religion here, but residents say there hasn’t been trouble between Christians and Muslims _ nothing that would explain why attackers slaughtered 13 people Thursday.

``We are all saddened by what happened on Thursday and we don’t understand why it happened to us,″ said Gaber Hamad, 27, a Muslim, ``Until Thursday, we were free of all terrorist attacks.″

Newspapers reported Saturday that two of the assailants were Muslim radicals wanted in connection with past attacks.

The attackers opened fire at people walking along the narrow dirt road outside the neighboring town of Bahgoura, 300 miles south of Cairo. Later, they attacked people inside buildings in Ezbet Dawoud, about 1 1/2 miles away.

A blood stain was still visible Saturday outside a shop in Ezbet Dawoud where a tailor, Gadullah Mansour Gabra, 50, was gunned down.

Nine of the 13 dead were Christians, making it the second deadly assault on minority Coptic Christians in southern Egypt in just over a month.

Police said the gunmen then fired on a train 12 miles south of the village, killing another woman and wounding six people. The opposition daily Al-Wafd said Saturday the slain woman had been pregnant.

The gunmen fled into sugar cane fields, but the government daily Al-Ahram reported villagers identified two attackers as Ali Attiya and Mahmoud el-Farshouty, both wanted in connection with past attacks by Muslim radicals. Another wanted militant, Anwar Hamed, helped plan the assault, it said.

Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, the main radical group behind a five-year campaign of violence against the government, operates throughout southern Egypt, keeping hide outs in sugar cane fields and mountain caves.

More than 1,070 people have died in the campaign to turn Egypt into a strict Islamic state. The militants sometimes have attacked Christians or robbed Christian businesses to support their activities.

Last month in Minya province, 100 miles north along the Nile, attackers killed nine Copts in a church. Copts, whose sect is among the earliest in Christianity, make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 63 million population.

About 10,000 people live in Bahgoura _ 60 percent to 70 percent of them Christians. Ezbet Dawoud _ about half Muslim and half Christian _ has only a few hundred houses, some little more than crude huts shared with animals.

Police armed with assault rifles guarded the road to Bahgoura on Saturday. Two banners with verses from the Koran, Islam’s holy book, were strung across streets to mourn the Muslim dead.

In nearby Nag Hamadi, Father Makari Ibrahim, a Coptic priest, said Thursday’s attack was aimed at inciting sectarian strife: ``I think their target was Copts. It just happened that Muslims got in the way.″

Father Ibrahim said he was satisfied the government was trying to protect the Copts from Muslim radicals, but said it was an impossible task.

``What do you expect the government to do for us,″ he asked, ``assign a policeman for every Copt?″

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