Thousands of Coptic Christians clashed with police during a funeral procession Thursday for the seven people killed in an attack on churchgoers leaving a midnight Mass, security officials said.

The protesters pelted cars with stones. Earlier, they smashed ambulances at the hospital in frustration over delays in turning over the bodies for burial. A security official says police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The official and witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The riots follow an attack the previous night, in which three gunmen in a car sprayed automatic gunfire into a crowd leaving a church in the town of Nag Hamadi, about 40 miles from the ancient ruins of Luxor.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry said the attack was suspected as retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town.

Security was tight in the town as police was deployed fearing rioting and to search for the suspects. The release of bodies could be delayed for fear the funerals will turn into a flashpoint for more violence.

Christians, mostly Coptic, account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Muslim population. They generally live in peace with the Muslim majority although clashes and tensions in the south do occur, mostly over land or church construction disputes. In recent years the clashes have begun seeping into the capital.

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