By Nour Youssef – The New York Times –
At least eight 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 the police, the spokesman, Boules Haliem, said by telephone.
“He did not manage to get in,” Mr. Haliem said of the gunman. Worshipers were attacked as they were leaving the church, he said, and at least seven were killed, along with one police officer. Seven more worshipers and a police officer were wounded.
“The church was full,” Mr. Haliem said. “They were attending Mass.” Photographs showed several bullet holes in the facade of the church.
Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 96 million.
No group has claimed the attack, but experts believe it is the work of the Islamic State.
The militant group 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 attackingbuses 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, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013, and cracked down on his supporters and dissidents of all stripes.
The shooting on Friday is likely to rattle the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which is not accustomed to attacks of this nature on civilians in Cairo. 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 attacker, who was riding a motorcycle, was armed with an automatic rifle, and the police were said to have restrained him just before he attempted 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 was a lone wolf assault.
Separately on Friday, a gunman killed two people at an appliance shop in Helwan owned by a Coptic Christian, Mr. 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 on 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.
Credit Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters