Egypt's state security prosecutors filed attempted murder charges against a Coptic village priest, accusing him of provoking the violence which killed 21 Christians in El-Kosheh village over New Year's weekend.

Father Gabriel Abdul Masih, 35, was booked in a Cairo court February 7 on charges of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, leading a mob attack, looting and damaging property, and possession of unlicensed weapons and ammunition. After ten hours of interrogations culminating in formal criminal charges, the priest was released on bail and allowed to return to his parish at the Angel Michael Church in El-Kosheh.

Church sources in Egypt confirmed that Prosecutor General Hisham Saraya of state security had requested through the cleric's local bishop, Bishop Wissa of Balyana, that the priest present himself to security authorities for questioning. Accordingly, Gabriel went to security headquarters in Cairo on Sunday evening, February 6. Saraya had announced to the Egyptian press on January 15 that a warrant had been issued for the priest's arrest. According to an article the next day in the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, Saraya's order was based on testimony taken from Muslims of Awlad Toq, a village adjacent to El-Kosheh.

But for the next three weeks, Gabriel was never notified by the authorities, nor was any attempt made to arrest him at his home in El-Kosheh.

Meanwhile, the Cairo media jumped on the allegations, declaring that the priest had been accused by Muslim witnesses of firing from the church tower, as well as leading a mob of Coptic youths, machine gun in hand. The multiple articles said Muslim villagers claimed that the rioting Christians were chanting, "Long live the cross. There will be no Islam after ...

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