Nine Christians and a policeman have been killed by gunmen in two attacks on a Coptic Christian church at the entrance to the church of Mar Mina in Helwan district south of Cairo, on Friday 29th December, medical and security sources said.
Eye witness accounts say two attackers opened fire at the entrance to the Church of Mar Mina during a Friday mass. One of the policemen guarding the church was killed instantly as well one of the gunmen. The Health Ministry confirmed the death of nine people, in addition to the gunman. Five people were wounded, including two women whose condition is said to be critical.
Raouth Atta, 40, who was in the church during the attack, said, “Once the gunfire was heard, the gates were closed immediately,” she told AP in a phone interview. “People were terrified and wanted to check on their families in other buildings of the church. We stayed inside for 30 minutes before we were able to get out.” She said.
A statement by the Coptic Orthodox Church said at least six people were killed in the attack including five Copts and a policeman. The statement said there was a separate attack on a store in the same neighbourhood of Helwan that killed two Copts.
Egyptian local media said one of the attackers was captured while the other who was shot dead by security forces was wearing an explosive belt. Two other bombs had been defused near th church, reports say.
US President, Donald Trump, who has promised to make protecting persecuted Christian communities a priority for his administration, in a statement released by the White House, “condemned the attack and reiterated that the United States will continue to stand with Egypt in the face of terrorism.” The statement added that “President Trump emphasized his commitment to strengthening efforts to defeat terrorism and extremism in all their forms.”
The Islamic State (IS) group, claiming responsibility, in a statement carried by the group’s Aamaq news ageny, said Friday’s attack was carried out by a “security detail” and that one of its men was “martyred” in it.
Over 100 Coptic Christians have been killed in 2017 by ISIS in the peninsular, who have claimed responsibility for the attacks including two bomb attacks on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral last December.
Reports say the Egyptian Police have stepped up security around churches ahead of the Coptic Christmas celebrations on 7 January. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi had personally chaired meetings with his top security chiefs and tightened the security around worship areas during New Year’s Eve and the Orthodox Christmas.
The 10% Christians of Egypt’s population, have suffered discrimination, verbal and physical abuses as well as outright attacks by the predominant Muslims and targeted killings by extremists with little or no police intervention and protection, despite President Asisi’s promise to protect Christians.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.