The Oasis Reporters
December 29, 2017
A gunman opened fire on a church south of Cairo on Friday, killing at least nine people in the latest apparent jihadist attack on Egypt’s Christian minority.
The attacker targeted the Saint Mina Coptic church in the district of Helwan, just south of Cairo.
Health ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed told state television that the gunman was shot dead after killing nine people and wounding others, including a police officer. But the interior ministry said the assailant, a wanted jihadist implicated in attacks on police, had been wounded and arrested.
The man had been armed with an assault rifle, 150 rounds of ammunition and a bomb he intended to set off at the church, the ministry said.
It added that he had killed two people when he opened fire on a store before heading to the church where he shot dead seven people including the officer.
It said the man had previously attacked a Coptic-owned shop in the same area, killing two brothers, according to a report by the BBC. .
The interior ministry revised an earlier account given by the health ministry.
The initial report said 12 were dead, and suggested there were two attackers. It said one had been killed, and the other fled but was later captured.
More than 100 Christians have been killed in Egypt in the past year, with most attacks claimed by the local branch of the so-called Islamic State group.
Security forces have reinforced checkpoints in place around the capital in response to the attacks.
They announced plans earlier this week to protect festivities around the New Year and, on 7 January, Coptic Christmas. They include the deployment of rapid-reaction forces, combat troops and jamming equipment.
Cellphone footage posted on social media appeared to show the bearded gunman wearing a bulky ammunition vest sprawled on a street, barely conscious, as people restrained his arms and then handcuffed him.
Police later cordoned off the crime scene as onlookers crowded around the church, while a team of forensic experts combed the area.
Congealing blood could be seen at a guard post in front of the church.
The Islamic State group’s affiliate in Egypt has killed dozens of Christians in church bombings and shootings during the past year, and has threatened further attacks against the minority.
Friday’s attack came ahead of Christmas for the Copts, who celebrate it on January 7.
Series of attacks on Christians
Egypt’s Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the country’s 93 million people, and are the largest religious minority in the region.
IS claimed a suicide bombing of a Cairo church in December 2016 and bombings of two churches north of the capital in April.
A month later, IS gunmen shot dead about 30 Christians south of Cairo as they travelled to a monastery.
The jihadists are believed to have also carried out a massacre of Muslim worshippers in Sinai last month, killing more than 300 in an attack on a mosque associated with the mystical Sufi strand of Islam which IS views as heretical.
Egypt imposed a state of emergency after the church attacks and shootings, and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi demanded the army confront the jihadists with “brutal force” following the mosque massacre.
The presidency said Friday’s church attack would increase the “resolve to continue the path of cleansing the country of terrorism and extremism.”
IS has been waging a deadly insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.
The jihadists have increasingly targeted civilians as attacks on the security forces have become more difficult.
The army has poured in thousands of troops backed with armour and jets in a bid to crush the Sinai-based jihadists, but attacks have continued.
The attack on the church came a day after six Egyptian soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the Sinai.
Last week, IS claimed responsibility for firing an anti-tank missile at a helicopter in a North Sinai airport as the defence and interior ministers were visiting.
The attack killed an aide to the defence minister and a helicopter pilot, but both ministers returned to Cairo unscathed.
Egypt’s Gulf allies sent their condolences over Friday’s shooting.
Saudi Arabia said it would “stand with Egypt against sinful terrorist acts”, while the United Arab Emirates called the attack a “cowardly”.
Qatar, at the centre of a long-running dispute with its Gulf neighbours and Egypt, which accuse it of supporting extremist groups, also sent condolences and emphasised its “firm position in rejecting terrorism”.
In the wake of Friday’s attacks, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi offered condolences to family members and vowed to continue “cleansing the country of terrorism and extremism”.
Egypt’s Copts have in the past accused the authorities of making only token gestures to protect them and these incidents will not help calm tensions, our correspondent Radwa Gamal says.
Egypt is a Muslim-majority country and its Christian minority – mostly members of the Coptic Orthodox Church – make up around 10% of the population.
Last Easter, on Palm Sunday, at least 45 people died in twin attacks on Coptic churches in Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta. At least 29 Copts were killed on a bus en route to a monastery in central Egypt in May, and a Coptic Orthodox priest was stabbed to death in Cairo in October.
The attacks have been blamed on, and in many cases claimed by, Islamists affiliated with so-called Islamic State (IS).