Egypt's Sisi attends Coptic Christmas celebration amid tight security

CAIRO, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi attended on Saturday evening the Coptic Christmas Eve celebration held at a new, partly-opened cathedral in the country's new administrative capital city eastern Cairo.

"This partial opening of the cathedral is a very important message of peace and love not only to Egyptians but to the whole world," said the Egyptian president in his remarks at the cathedral aired on the state TV.

The new unfinished cathedral, named the Nativity of Christ, is said to be the largest in the Middle East region.

"We love you. We are one united people and no one can ever divide us," Sisi told the cheering Copts ahead of the Christmas Mass that is rarely held outside the main St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo.

Copts constitute about 10 percent of Egypt's 100-million population and most of Egypt's Copts belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7.

Sisi's remarks came amid a wave of anti-Coptic church terrorist attacks that killed over a hundred since late 2016, with most of them claimed by a Sinai-based terrorist group loyal to the regional Islamic State (IS) group.

In late 2017, a terrorist shootout outside a church southern Cairo killed at least 10 people, including a policeman and one of the two perpetrators.

In late May 2017, the IS claimed responsibility for shooting dead at least 30 Copts heading to visit a monastery on the desert highway in Upper Egypt's Minya Province.

Earlier in April 2017, the IS-claimed bombings at two churches in northern provinces of Gharbiya and Alexandria killed at least 47 and wounded over 120.

A similar suicide bombing at a Cairo church in December 2016 killed at least 29 worshippers, mostly women, and children.

Sisi told the attendees at the cathedral that "the people of evil" will not be able to harm Egypt as long as the Egyptians are united.

In the meantime, tens of thousands of soldiers and policemen were deployed across the country on Saturday to secure the Christians and their churches on the eve of Orthodox Christmas.

"The security patrols and joint combat groups have also intensified their deployment at the streets and main squares to deal with any law-breaking attempts and provide security and safety to all citizens nationwide," the Egyptian military spokesman said in a statement Saturday.

The beefed up nationwide security comes as a precaution against any possible IS anti-Copt attacks.

Egypt has been suffering terrorist activities that killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since the military removal of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 in response to the mass protests against his one-year rule and his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

Terrorist attacks were centered in restive North Sinai province northeastern Cairo and targeted security forces before they gradually extended to other provinces and started to target dozens of the Coptic minority with church bombings.

Terrorism in Egypt did not stop at targeting security men and Copts, as a terrorist attack in late November 2017 against a mosque in a village of North Sinai's Arish city killed at least 310 Muslim worshippers and wounded over 120 others, marking the deadliest terror attack and the first against a Muslim mosque in Egypt's modern history.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the mosque attack, although fingers point at the Sinai-based IS affiliates.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian security forces have killed hundreds of terrorists and arrested a similar number of suspects during the country's anti-terror war declared by President Sisi, the army chief then, following Morsi's ouster.

Coptic Christians take part in a Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve mass at the new Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Egypt's new administrative capital, about 50km east of Cairo, Egypt, on Jan. 6, 2018.