Machine-gun ambush kills Christians leaving church near Cairo

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Several Christians were gunned down as they left church services on the morning of Dec. 29 near Cairo, the Coptic Church and various government authorities reported.

At least two assailants were involved in the 10 a.m. attack on the Mar Nina Church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, government officials said. The church was full of worshipers, who were leaving the building, a Coptic Church spokesman told the New York Times.

Prior to arriving at the church, at least one of the church attackers first fired on a Coptic-owned appliance shop, killing two brothers — sons of the owner, according to a statement by the Coptic Church posted on Facebook.

CNN reported that the Coptic archbishop of the Helwan district, Father Ebram Mihail, said the attack on the church began 10 minutes after services had ended. People were streaming out the door when they were gunned down, and those still inside heard gunfire for 15 minutes, he said. Witnesses told the Associated Press that church members closed the gates, and people on the streets darted for cover.

The Interior Ministry told news media that a gunman on a motorcycle, having already killed several people, tried to break through a security barrier outside the church. He was shot in an exchange of gunfire with security personnel, the news service Al Arabiya English reported, citing police officials, and did not get into the church.

The Guardian reported that a second attacker was arrested as he tried to flee the scene. On the whole, however, early media reports were inconsistent on whether there was one, or two, attackers, and which of them had been arrested. Most reports indicated that one of the attackers had been killed and another arrested, but details were inconsistent. One was reported to have an explosive device; photos circulated on social media purported to show one of the attackers, dead in the street and wearing a bulky vest.

The attack was carried out by an affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, according to a statement posted on the messaging app Telegram, the Times reported.

THE VICTIMS

Accounts of the number of people killed and injured by the attackers varied.

Number of people killed and injured

Government sources and news media provided varying accounts of the death toll at Mar Nina church south of Cairo on Dec. 29
Worshipers at the churchNearby Coptic-owned shopUnspecifiedPolice / security officer at churchAttackerTotal deadInjuredSource
5218Coptic Church statement posted on Facebook
5218Mada Masr, citing the Coptic Church
1010Mada Masr, citing the health ministry
91105Reuters, citing the interior and health ministries
811105AP, citing the health ministry
6211104Ahram Online, citing interior and health ministries
52119"Several"The Guardian, citing interior ministry, Coptic Church statement
6219BBC, citing interior ministry
811105CNN, citing health ministry
91105Al Arabiya English, citing health ministry and the Coptic Church
621110Unspecified numberDaily Nation, citing interior and health ministries
8211129New York Times, citing Coptic Church spokesman

REACTION

Islamist violence against Egyptian Christians has escalated during the past year. Making up about 10 percent of the population, they live in a deeply polarised society, caught between secular nationalists and radical Islamists. In 2013 they were perceived as supporting the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. Scores of churches across the country were attacked and burned. IS has vowed to “wipe them out”.

Egypt is No. 21 on the World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries were it is most difficult for Christians to live. It is published by Open Doors, a global NGO that serves Christians who live under pressure because of their faith.

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