Militants attack Christians in Egypt, killing at least 28
Masked gunmen riding in three SUVs opened fire Friday on a packed bus taking Coptic Christians on a visit to a monastery south of Egypt’s capital, killing at least 28 people, including two little children, authorities said.
Twenty-two others were reported wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the fourth against Christians since December, but it bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State group. The bloodshed came on the eve of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
For years, Islamic militants have been waging an insurgency mostly centred in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, though a growing number of attacks have recently also taken place on the mainland.
The bus was ambushed on a side road in the desert on its way to the remote monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Maghagha, about 220 kilometres south of Cairo.
The monastery, reachable only by a short, unpaved route that veers off the main highway, is in Minya province, where Christians account for more than 35 per cent of the population, the highest level of any province.
Security officials quoted witnesses as saying they saw eight to 10 attackers in military uniforms and masks.
Arab TV stations showed images of a bus riddled with bullet holes, with many of its windows shattered and bloodstains on the seats. Bodies lay on the ground, covered with black plastic sheets. Children could be heard screaming hysterically in the background.
Security and medical officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, said the death toll stood at 28 but could rise. The dead included two little girls, ages 2 and 4.
The surge in violence against Christians in Egypt has added to the formidable challenges facing President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government as it struggles to contain the insurgency while pushing ahead with an ambitious and politically sensitive reform program to revive the country’s ailing economy. The program has sent the cost of food and services soaring.
“The growing number of these terror attacks is not at all reassuring,” Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic church, told a local TV station.
On Wednesday, Egypt blocked access to nearly two dozen websites it said were sympathetic to militants or spreading their ideology.
Last month, el-Sissi declared a three-month state of emergency following twin suicide bombings that struck two churches north of Cairo on Palm Sunday. In December, a suicide bomber targeted a Cairo church. The attacks, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, left at least 75 people dead.
This image released by the Minya governorate media office shows bodies of victims killed when gunmen stormed a bus in Minya, Egypt, Friday. Egyptian officials say dozens of people were killed and wounded in an attack by masked militants on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, including children, south of Cairo.