SANABU, EGYPT — RESIDENTS of this farming community were mourning their dead after the worst outbreak of religious violence in many years. Thirteen people, all but two of them Coptic Christians, were gunned down by Muslim fundamentalists Monday. The two Muslim gunmen killed were said to be defending Christians targeted by the gunmen.
Sanabu, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of Cairo, is a community of more than 25,000 Muslims and Christians, who have until recent years lived beside each other virtually without incidents of religious strife.
According to officials and other residents, Monday's brutal killings were well-organized and carried out by followers of an extremist fundamentalist group.
Contrary to initial reports given by official police sources, there were no "clashes" or reports of fighting between Christians and Muslims.
The murders were carried out in the morning at a school, the residence of a Coptic doctor, and a Coptic-owned farm. In every case, police and residents say, gunmen entered buildings or fields and opened fire on their victims.
One source likened the killings to "gangland slayings." The murders, according to local people, came after a Christian resident refused to pay "protection money" to a local Muslim fundamentalist leader. Residents say the man had demanded such payments for several years. They also allege that the police had been aware of the racket.
The men believed to have carried out the murders are followers of a civil servant known as "Emir" or "Prince" Gamal Farghaly Haridi, who is said to have formed a splinter group to Islamic Jihad.
The latter was one of the largest, most powerful extremist groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It took responsibility for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. In recent years, Jihad followers have split with the organization to form more radical groups. The trend has been seen recently in other rural areas, such as Faiyum Oasis, Beni Suef, and Qena.
"It's a political problem," said a Coptic doctor, who requested anonymity. He and his neighbors had gathered at the home of a town elder to prepare for the burial of a young farmer, Adil Shafy, who was shot and killed as he worked in his field. As we spoke the keening of women mourners grew in volume. "[Muslim fundamentalists] are shaking the regime so they can get hold of it. If you notice, lately there has been a rise in violence here, in Assiut, Qena, and Faiyum."
Said another: "We believe it's all connected."
Special forces police from Cairo were moved into the area in the wake of the killings, and armored personnel carriers had been deployed at the scene of the crimes.
"We believe they have escaped," an intelligence officer said. Only a few arrests had been made, including the father of the man believed to have ordered the killings. Mr. Haridi himself was said to have escaped.