World News

Gunmen Attack Cairo Church, Killing at Least 9

Posted December 29, 2017 5:36 p.m. EST
Updated December 29, 2017 5:42 p.m. EST

CAIRO — At least nine people were killed when gunmen opened fire on a Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo on Friday, a church spokesman said, in the latest in a series of attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority.

The assault targeted the Mar Mina Church in the southern Cairo neighborhood of Helwan. At least one gunman was killed by police, spokesman Boules Haliem said by telephone.

“He did not manage to get in,” Haliem said of the gunman. Worshippers were attacked as they were leaving the church, he said, and at least eight were killed, along with one police officer. Eight more worshippers and a police officer were wounded.

“The church was full,” Haliem said. “They were attending Mass.” Photographs showed several bullet holes in the facade of the church.

Two of the wounded were in critical condition, he said.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 96 million. This was not the first deadly assault on Christian worshippers in Cairo, but the capital is not accustomed to this sort of attack on civilians.

The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement that was circulated on the messaging app Telegram. The statement said that 10 people had been killed, and it described the victims as “crusaders” and “apostates.” The statement also said that one of the attackers had been killed.

The assault came just over a month after Egypt’s deadliest terror attack, in which more than 300 Sufi Muslims were killed at a mosque in the Sinai Peninsula, as the militant group steps up its campaign of violence against Egypt’s minorities.

The Islamic State declared its intention to attack Egyptian Christians last year as it seeks a stronger foothold in Egypt after defeats in Syria and Iraq. It has since killed more than 100 Egyptian Copts by bombing churches and attacking buses carrying pilgrims.

The group already had a strong presence in the northern half of the Sinai Peninsula, where it has been targeting police and military installations.

Militant attacks increased in Egypt after the military overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013, and cracked down on his supporters and dissidents of all stripes.

The shooting Friday is likely to rattle the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. To many, the assault is a disturbing reminder of the militants’ expanding activity in mainland Egypt.

Egyptian state media also reported the death of a gunman, and added that another assailant — a gunman who also had a homemade bomb with him — was arrested later in the day.

The second man, who was riding a motorcycle, was armed with an automatic rifle, and police were said to have restrained him just before he tried to throw the bomb into the church.

It remains unclear exactly how many assailants were involved. Officials gave conflicting accounts, with some saying that three men were involved and others calling it a lone wolf assault.

Separately on Friday, a gunman killed two people at an appliance shop in Helwan owned by a Coptic Christian, Haliem said.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said in a statement that one man had been responsible for the slaughter Friday. The man was in custody, the ministry said, describing him as “one of the most prominent active terrorist elements” in the country.

A spokesman for the Egyptian police could not be immediately reached for clarification.

Earlier this month, Islamic State militants attacked an airport in Sinai during a visit by the country’s defense and interior ministers. The ministers were unharmed, but one military officer was killed.

President Donald Trump called el-Sissi on Friday to offer his condolences, the Egyptian president’s office said in a statement. During the call, Trump “stressed the need to coordinate international efforts in order to combat terrorism,” el-Sissi’s office said.