Days of fighting in Egypt eased for a bit, but now there's a new worry. Christians are finding themselves targeted. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.
KERDASA, Egypt – Guards stood inside the scorched and ransacked interior of a decades-old church Sunday in the village of Kerdasa, not far from the pyramids at Giza, the sanctuary's altar destroyed and charred fragments of scripture scattered on the floor.
The Archangel Michael Church about 16 miles from Cairo this week became another victim of the violence sweeping Egypt, the guards said. The attack came after supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were driven from opposition camps in Cairo by security forces on Wednesday, setting off a wave of violence that has claimed more than 800 lives.
The Christian house of worship, which is located in a poor and mostly agrarian area on the outskirts of Cairo, was vandalized and burned by a crowd on Wednesday, church guards said.
A chandelier, various holy texts, and pictures of Jesus were among the debris left scattered in the church complex's courtyard.
"We were about six people here, and they attacked us, about 1,000 people. There were a lot of them and they were very fierce. They had Molotovs [gas bombs] and knives," church guard Rida Gaballah told NBC News.
"There were so many and they were very fierce. We couldn't stand in front of them, they had Molotovs and swords and knives," Gaballah said. "We ran off. Some of us got hurt from them throwing stones."
In the past, there would often be a policeman outside the church, Gaballah said, but on the day of the attack the police station had been set on fire, and no officers responded when the church was vandalized.
Graffiti sprayed on the walls of the church built in the 1940s read "Allah u Akbar" ["God is Great"], "Egypt is Islamic," and "Sisi is a Murderer," referring to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The church is the only one in the surrounding area, Gaballah said.
Members of the minority faith and their Muslim neighbors have existed peacefully side by side in the area for years, Gaballah said, but that changed after the July ouster of Morsi amidst widespread popular protests.
"Historically the relations were fine between Muslims and Christians in this area, it only got turned upside down when Morsi left power," Gaballah said. "When they cleared Rabaa and Nahda, they destroyed this church and the whole country."
While Gaballah said he could forgive the crowd that allegedly ransacked the church, another guard said the community was terrified by the incident.
"We are living in fear, God protect us," said church guard Abdel Munim Bishoi. "Imagine the people that did this to the church – they could do the same to anyone or anywhere else."
"We are still afraid and we are afraid for our children," Bishoi said.
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, vehemently denied on Friday that their members were involved in attacks on churches in the country where Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the population.
A spokesman for the party, Dr. Morad Ali, said on Friday that web pages purporting to have a connection to the party were fakes.
"[The party] stands firmly against any attack — even verbal — against churches," Ali said in a statement. "Our revolution is peaceful."
Father Boutros Samy, 46, heads the Coptic church of St. Mark in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. His place of worship was full of people on Sunday. Any attacks on Christians are carried out by a tiny percentage of the population, he said, and that most Egyptians want to find a quick and peaceful resolution to the current crisis.
"The Egyptian people themselves, they are not fanatic," Samy said. "They are not the ones who believe in the fanatic thinking, those are a minority."
His church did not need more protection from the police or military Samy said – and if it was damaged, he said the community that worships there would carry on.
"I don't think that we really need a big staff of military people surrounding the church, because at the end of the day, I am telling you the Egyptians will not allow the minority to do these harmful attacks to our churches," Samy said. "We have faith in the country, I have faith in the people. I believe in the people, Christians or Muslims.
NBC News' Matthew DeLuca and Henry Austin contributed to this report.