Egypt at­tacks ter­ror­ist bases in Libya af­ter am­bush kills 28 Cop­tic Chris­tians

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - HAMZA HENDAWI AND MO­HAMMED WAGDY

CAIRO — Masked gun­men am­bushed a bus car­ry­ing Cop­tic Chris­tians to a monastery south of Cairo on Fri­day, killing at least 28 peo­ple, and Egypt re­sponded by launch­ing airstrikes against what it said were mil­i­tant train­ing bases in Libya.

Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi an­nounced the re­tal­ia­tory ac­tion hours af­ter the bus was rid­dled with ma­chine-gun fire on a re­mote desert road by sus­pected Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in three SUVs.

“What you’ve seen to­day will not go un­pun­ished. An ex­tremely painful strike has been dealt to the bases. Egypt will never hes­i­tate to strike ter­ror bases any­where,” el-Sissi said in a tele­vised ad­dress to the na­tion.

The am­bush was the fourth deadly at­tack against the coun­try’s Chris­tians since De­cem­ber. The dead in­cluded two lit­tle girls, ages two and four. Twenty-two oth­ers were re­ported wounded.

El-Sissi also ap­pealed to U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to lead the global war against ter­ror. Trump, in Italy on his first trip abroad as pres­i­dent, blamed the blood­shed on a “thug­gish ide­ol­ogy” and said it should bring na­tions to­gether to crush “evil or­ga­ni­za­tions of ter­ror.”

Se­nior Egyp­tian of­fi­cials said fighter jets tar­geted bases in eastern Libya of the Shura Coun­cil, an Is­lamist mili­tia known to be linked to al-Qaida, not the IS. There was no word on dam­age or ca­su­al­ties.

The bus at­tack deep­ens the woes of the ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim na­tion, where El-Sissi’s gov­ern­ment is strug­gling not only to crush a bur­geon­ing Is­lamic in­sur­gency, but to re­vive the bat­tered econ­omy.

The coun­try’s Chris­tians have com­plained that the gov­ern­ment is not do­ing enough to pro­tect them from Is­lamic ex­trem­ists, and hun­dreds of them re­acted to the bus at­tack by stag­ing an­gry street protests in two pro­vin­cial cities, de­stroy­ing at least six cars and briefly cut­ting off rail­way lines.

“Ei­ther we get ret­ri­bu­tion or die like them,” some chanted.

There was no im­me­di­ate claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the am­bush, which came on the eve of the start of the Mus­lim holy month, Ra­madan.

But it bore the hall­marks of the Is­lamic State, which has been spear­head­ing an in­sur­gency that has car­ried out deadly at­tacks in Egypt’s Si­nai Penin­sula and, in­creas­ingly, on the coun­try’s main­land.

The In­te­rior Min­istry said the as­sailants opened fire as the bus trav­elled to the St. Sa­muel the Con­fes­sor monastery in Maghagha, about 220 kilo­me­tres south of Cairo. The Cop­tic Ortho­dox monastery is reach­able only by an un­paved route that veers off the main high­way.

Se­cu­rity and med­i­cal of­fi­cials quoted wit­nesses as say­ing they saw eight to 10 at­tack­ers in mil­i­tary uni­forms. They said one of the as­sailants’ SUVs got stuck in the sand, so they torched it and hi­jacked a truck trav­el­ling the same road, killing its oc­cu­pants.

The of­fi­cials, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to talk to re­porters, said the death toll stood at 28 and could rise.

El-Sissi’s gov­ern­ment is in the midst of an am­bi­tious and po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive re­form pro­gram to re­sus­ci­tate the econ­omy. The pro­gram has sent the cost of food and ser­vices soar­ing, feed­ing pop­u­lar dis­con­tent. A new wave of in­creases for fuel and elec­tric­ity is ex­pected this sum­mer.

Af­ter an April visit to Egypt by Pope Fran­cis, the IS vowed to es­ca­late at­tacks against Chris­tians and urged Mus­lims to steer clear of Chris­tian gath­er­ings and West­ern em­bassies.

Wed­nes­day, Egypt blocked ac­cess to nearly two dozen web­sites it said were sym­pa­thetic to mil­i­tants or spread­ing their ide­ol­ogy.

Egypt’s Copts, the Mid­dle East’s largest Chris­tian com­mu­nity, ac­count for about 10 per cent of the coun­try’s 93 mil­lion peo­ple. They ral­lied be­hind el-Sissi in 2013 when he ousted his Is­lamist pre­de­ces­sor Mo­hammed Morsi, who hails from the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood. At­tacks on Chris­tian homes, busi­nesses and churches sub­se­quently surged.

AMR NA­BIL, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rel­a­tives of slain Cop­tic Chris­tians grieve dur­ing a fu­neral at Abu Garnous Cathe­dral in Minya, Egypt, on Fri­day. Dozens of peo­ple were killed and wounded in Fri­day’s at­tack.

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