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January 14, 2011

Train Shooting 2.0

When software engineers issue a new version of code, they typically communicate the change to their customers by labeling adding a number such as "2.0" to the original title of the software.

A similar process is at work regarding the coverage of the train shooting that killed one Coptic Christian and left five others wounded on Tuesday Jan. 11, 2011. On the day of the attack, Al Masry Al Youm reported that security officials said gunmen looked for crosses tatooed on the wrists of his victims before shooting them. Other reports stated that the gunman chanted "God is Great" during the attack.

The story however, has changed. Al Masry Al Youm has interviewed Mahmoud Abdul Bassit Hamid who took the gun from the assailant's hand. The paper reports the following in its Jan. 14 online edition:

Hamid said newspapers (sic) reports that the suspect repeated phrases such as "Allah is great" [Allahu Akbar] were untrue. According to him, the suspect was silent and fired haphazardly during the shooting, which Hamid said lasted less than three minutes.

This story is contradicted by an article by Mary Abdelmassih from the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), and published in The Pakistan Christian Post on the same day as the Al Masry Al Youm piece.

The piece reports the official line from the Egyptian government (the attacker was "mentally unstable" and that there was no sectarian motive to the attacks) and then provides valuable context about the credibilty of such assertions to its readers.

The Coptic Diocese of Minya said that the perpetrator went up and down the train compartment before shooting at the Copts while chanting Islamic chants.

Dr.Naguib Ghabrial, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations, described the incident as a premeditated "sectarian" attack, aimed at the Copts, since they sat together and sang Christian hymns, and the assailant shouted Allahu Akbar three times before shooting.

Ghabrial criticized the Interior Ministry for downplaying the shooting as usual. "The gunman did not shoot at random, otherwise Muslims would have been wounded as well," Ghabrial told BBC Arabic TV. "This is one in the series of attacks aimed at Copts, before this there was the Alexandria Massacre."

"I am sorry that the Ministry hastily issued a statement that the assailant was mentally unstable." Said Ghabrial. " Would someone who is mentally unstable be issued with a weapon and ammunition, would he be able to differentiate between Copts and Muslims?" he said. "I am telling the Interior Minister do not under-estimate Coptic intelligence and do not undervalue Coptic blood, for Coptic blood is not cheap." He called once again for the minister to resign after all these Coptic Massacres.

In its coverage of the attack, the Los Angeles Times, reports the following:

But earlier on Wednesday, AFP quoted a Samalut priest as saying that he was told by victims that the assailant targeted Copts, picking out people near a group of women not wearing headscarves: "The victims told me that after he was certain, he raised his gun and yelled 'Allahu akbar' or 'God is great,'" a priest identified as Morkos said, according to AFP.

One victim told Al Youm Al Sabee, an Egyptian independent news website, that "the offender yelled 'la ilah illa Allah,' or "there is no god but Allah'" rather than "Allahu akbar."

What explains the changing narrative? It's difficult to say. Maybe initial reports were incorrect. It's entirely possible given the chaos that probably attended the shooting itself.

Or maybe the Egyptian government is working to mold the story to downplay the sectarian nature of the attack.

In any event, Coptic leaders are convinced the attack was motivated by anti-Christian hostility and that the assailant specifically targeted Christians.

In other words, they won't be buying the upgrade.

Posted by dvz at January 14, 2011 01:42 PM


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