'Many children' among victims in deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt
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Gunmen opened fire Friday on a convoy of Coptic Christians south of Cairo in Egypt killing at least 28 people – many of them children - and wounding 25, officials said.
Egyptian security and medical officials said a large number of children were among the victims of the attack, but it was not immediately clear how many. According to Copts United news portal, only three children survived the attack.
Witnesses say between eight and 10 masked gunmen dressed in military uniforms drove up to the convoy in SUVs and attacked the vehicles - which were carrying Coptic Christians en route to a monastery in southern Egypt - in the Minya governorate, about 220 kilometres (140 miles), south of the Egyptian capital.
Arab TV stations showed images of a badly damaged bus along a roadside, many of its windows shattered and with numerous bullet holes. Footage of the bus's interior showed blood stains on the seats and shattered glass.
Ambulances are seen parked around the bus and bodies are lying on the ground, covered with black plastic sheets.
A surge in attacks on Christians
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came on the eve of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Egypt has been fighting Islamic State (IS) group-linked militants who have waged an insurgency, mainly focused in the volatile north of the Sinai Peninsula but there have been also attacks on the mainland.
Egypt has seen a wave of attacks on its Christians, including twin suicide bombings in April and another attack in December on a Cairo church that left over 75 people dead and scores wounded. The IS group in Egypt claimed responsibility for them and vowed more attacks.
“It’s not the first time that such attacks have happened in Minya,” FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Cairo, Alexandre Bucciante reported. However repercussions from authorities are rare, Bucciante said.
“In fact the authorities are afraid to upset the Salafists that are very strong in this province,” he added. “At the same time one third of this province is Coptic, which makes a sort of explosive cocktail.”
There was no immediate response from the government to Friday's attack, but it is likely to heighten security around churches, monasteries, schools and annual pilgrimages to remote Christian sites across the country.
Late last month Pope Francis visited Egypt in part to show his support for the Christians of this Muslim majority Arab nation who have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants.
During the trip, Francis paid tribute to the victims of the December bombing at Cairo's St. Peter's church, which is located in close proximity to the St. Mark's cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Following the Pope's visit, the IS group affiliate in Egypt vowed to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and western embassies as they are targets of their group's militants.
Egypt's Copts, the Middle East's largest Christian community, have repeatedly complained of suffering discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at hands of the country's majority Muslim population.
Over the past decades, they have been the immediate targets of Islamic extremists. They rallied behind general-turned-president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group.
Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged, especially in the country's south.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)