CAIRO (AP) – A court in the Egyptian city of Alexandria began the trial of a man accused of stabbing to death a Coptic Christian priestan attack that shocked the most populous country in the Arab world.
The case dates back to early April, when Arsanious Wadid, a 56-year-old priest, was murdered on a popular seafront promenade in the Mediterranean city.
Prosecutors charged the suspect with stabbing the cleric to death. The suspect appeared before judges in a packed courtroom Saturday in Alexandria, in the first session of his trial. He denied the accusations.
Defense attorneys, in their opening argument, said the attack was not “deliberate.”
The court’s chief judge, Wahid Sabry, also questioned witnesses about the attack. A witness said the suspect stabbed the priest “because he was a Christian” and tried to attack bystanders when they intervened.
When the judges asked the witness to identify the suspect, he approached the defendant’s cage where he was being held and identified him, according to a live broadcast on Facebook.
Prosecutors demanded the maximum punishment for the suspect, which could be a death sentence if convicted.
Sectarian violence is not uncommon in Egypt. Islamic extremists have also targeted Christians in recent years, especially after the 2013 military ouster of an elected but divisive Islamist president.
In September 2017, a suspected Islamic State supporter stabbed to death an 82-year-old Christian doctor in Cairo. He was sentenced to death the following year.
Egypt’s Copts, the largest Christian community in the Middle East, have repeatedly complained of discrimination. They make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s more than 103 million people.