Christians persecuted by Islamists, says Prince Charles

Christians in parts of the Middle East are being deliberately targeted by Islamist militants in a campaign of persecution, Prince Charles has said.

The Prince of Wales made his comments after visiting the British branches of churches based in the region.

The prince heard accounts of Christians being murdered and families forced from their homes.

The upheavals of the Arab Spring have left many religious minorities vulnerable to accusation and attack.

Deeply troubled

Charles, accompanied by Prince Ghazi of Jordan, visited the Egyptian Coptic Church centre in Stevenage and the Syriac Orthodox cathedral in west London.

The two royals met church members who had either suffered intimidation or family members whose safety they feared for.

Later at a reception at Clarence House, attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop of Westminster and the Chief Rabbi, Prince Charles said he felt deeply troubled by the plight of Christians.

"For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding," he told the audience.

"The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so.

"This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time."

Wary relationship

The Coptic Church traces its origins back to the 1st Century when it was founded by the apostle St Mark.

The Syriac Orthodox Church says it was established by St Peter who became its first bishop.

Christians living in the Middle East have often had a wary relationship with their Muslim neighbours.

The Arab Spring though has led to an upsurge in violence with many Christians fleeing the region to avoid attack.

In Egypt, violence against the Copts increased after the military overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi.

Hundreds of church properties, homes and businesses were attacked and looted.

Many Islamists accused the Christian community of playing a role in President Morsi's downfall after the Coptic Pope Tawadros II publicly backed the country's new military rulers.

Falling population

In Syria, the Christian community has been suspected by rebels of siding with President Bashar al-Assad.

In reality, Syrian Christians say they have refused to take any side in the country's conflict.

Yet one Christian leader has said that almost a third of Christians have now left the country.

Minority Muslims, such as Sufis, have also frequently been attacked by Islamists in South Asia as well as Arab countries.

The falling Christian population in the Middle East has led to concerns over the religion's survival in the region of its birth.

British Christians have urged the government and church leaders to do more to help their co-religionists.