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Coptic Orthodox churches in Southern California on alert after fatal bombing in Egypt

January 6, 2011 |  4:26 pm

The bombing of a Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt has several churches in Southern California on alert during Thursday evening’s annual Christmas Masses.

Several of the 28 churches, whose congregants consist mostly of Egyptian families, have hired security or asked police to patrol surrounding areas during the late-night liturgies. Church officials have voiced concerns over possible terror threats since the New Year’s Day bombing of a church in Alexandria that killed 25 people and injured dozens more.

“We’re taking it seriously and we’re providing support so they can enjoy their holiday and not be fearful or feel any kind of anxiety about this,” said Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the LAPD’s counterterrorism and special operations bureau.

Downing said that the four Coptic churches in LAPD’s jurisdiction would receive extra patrol officers and officers would be assigned to stand outside some of the churches.

“The threat is real and we want to make sure that they feel that they’re protected and we’re serving them properly,” he said.

St. John Coptic Orthodox Church in Covina has hired private security, said Sgt. David Grall of the San Dimas division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.  "But we’re prepared for anything that goes on,” he said.

In Orange County, several churches have contacted police as well.

“The church is uncomfortable with what’s going on in Egypt and they’ve made the request,” said Santa Ana Police Sgt. Anthony Bertagna. Bertagna said that two officers will be stationed at Archangel Michael Church in Santa Ana. Police have also made Edinger Avenue in front of the church a no-parking zone.

The FBI also reached out to the Coptic community to hear concerns of perceived threats or give a point of contact to report information, said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles bureau.

Copts in Egypt make up about 10% of the country’s 82 million people. Many have immigrated to the U.S. in pursuit of job opportunities and to escape sectarian tensions in the majority Muslim country.

Coptic Christians observe Christmas according to the Julian calendar, which means the holiday falls on Jan. 7 each year.

The New Year’s bombing set the stage for a more somber celebration this year with Coptic churches all over the world taking extra precautions to ensure their safety.

“This painful accident gives our celebration of the Nativity feast this year a spiritual depth, revealing the greatness of God’s incarnation to cure the evil which polluted the world,” Bishop Serapion, the head of the Southern California Diocese, wrote on the diocese’s website.

--Nardine Saad