CAIRO — Police have surrounded farm fields in southern Egypt where gunmen who killed six Christians following Christmas eve mass are believed to be hiding, reported the Egyptian state media.

The MENA news agency quoted an anonymous security official late Thursday saying the police have recovered the car used in the drive-by shooting and identified the three perpetrators.

Three gunmen opened fire on a crowd of worshippers leaving a church in the town of Nag Hamadi, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of the famed ruins of Luxor.

A Muslim guard was also killed, and nine others wounded, including three in serious condition

Police have identified the perpetrators as outlaws with previous criminal records.

Thousands of Christians protested Thursday, attacking police and ambulances, over perceived discrimination against their community.

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, account for about 10 percent of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population of some 80 million people. They celebrate Christmas every year on Jan. 7.

The Copts generally live in peace with Muslims although clashes and tensions occasionally occur, particularly in southern Egypt, mostly over land or church construction disputes. (AP)