Egypt's state security prosecutors filed attempted murder charges against a Coptic village priest, accusing him of provoking the violence that killed 21 Christians in Al-Kosheh village during the New Year weekend (CT, Feb. 7, p. 31).

Father Gabriel Abdul Masih, 35, was booked in a Cairo court in February 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 10 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 Al-Kosheh.

According to an article in the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, Prosecutor General Hisham Saraya's order to arrest was based on testimony taken from Muslims in Awlad Toq, a village adjacent to Al-Kosheh.

"It never happened that I fired a gun," Gabriel told an Egyptian newspaper. "I am a religious man, not a terrorist."

According to government figures, 59 suspects have been ordered arrested for their alleged role in the rampage. Officials say 19 of those in custody are Muslims and two are Christians. Local church sources told Compass that 21 Copts were known to be under arrest, 15 detained in Al-Kosheh and another six arrested in Cairo.

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