PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday that Christian minorities in the Middle East are victims of "religious cleansing", following deadly attacks on churches in the region.
"We cannot accept and thereby facilitate what looks more and more like a particularly wicked programme of cleansing in the Middle East, religious cleansing," he said in an annual New Year's address to religious leaders.
An attack on a Coptic church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 1 killed 21 people.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for that attack, which came after threats published online against Egypt's Copts from an Al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq which had said it was behind a deadly assault on a church in Baghdad in October.
Forty-four worshippers and two priests died in the attack on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad in October, the worst of a series of attacks against Christians in Iraq.
French security sources said this week they had launched an investigation on terrorism-related charges after a priest filed a complaint over threats made online against a Coptic church in France.
Police in France and several other European countries have boosted security at Coptic churches which were due to celebrate Christmas on Friday, according to the eastern Orthodox church calendar.