Egypt says train shooting not sectarian

Egyptian authorities on Wednesday played down a sectarian motive for the murder of a Coptic man by a policeman, a day after Egypt recalled its Vatican envoy after the pope urged Cairo to protect its Christian minority.

Prosecutors were questioning the 23-year-old off-duty policeman who boarded a train near the southern town of Samalut and opened fire on passengers, killing a 71-year-old Coptic man and wounding his wife and four other Copts.

The attack sparked a protest outside a hospital in Samalut overnight by hundreds of Copts whom police dispersed using tear gas.

It came less than two weeks after a suicide bomber killed 21 congregants outside an Alexandria church following a New Year's Eve mass.

A security official said the suspect, who was arrested after the shooting, said in questioning that he had felt "irritated and frustrated" because he was short on money. He did not say he specifically targeted Christians.

Ahmed Diaa al-Din, governor of Minya, where Samalut is located, denied that the attacker was religiously motivated.

"It has to do with his personal mental state. It had nothing to do with the religion of his victims," he told AFP. "He boarded the train suddenly and emptied his pistol."

He said that the man tried to shoot two Muslims who wrestled with him but he had run out of ammunition.

One of the passengers told the official MENA news agency that the man began shooting passengers on the right of the carriage as soon as he boarded and then took aim at passengers on the other side, but his ammunition was spent.

But a local priest said the victims had told him the attacker surveyed the passengers and singled out a group of women who were not wearing the Muslim headscarf.

"The victims said he entered the carriage and he started looking at the passengers. He saw four women, sitting next to some male relatives, who were not wearing the hijab," said Father Morcos.

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