A gunman on a motorcycle opened fire Friday outside a church in a Cairo suburb and at a nearby store, sparking a shootout that killed at least nine people, including eight Coptic Christians, in the latest attack targeting the country’s embattled Christian minority.
The terrorist was also killed, along with at least one police officer, officials said.
The attack began when the gunman tried to break through the security cordon outside the Coptic Church of Mar Mina. It was not clear how many assailants were involved. Egypt’s Interior Ministry referred to only one, but the Coptic Orthodox church mentioned “gunmen.”
Five people were wounded, including another police officer, Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed said.
The attack came amid tightened security around churches and Christian facilities ahead of the Coptic Orthodox Christian holidays. Police have been stationed outside churches and in nearby streets across Cairo.
The Interior Ministry identified the assailant as Ibrahim Ismail Mostafa, who, the agency said, was involved in several previous terror attacks. The Ministry said he was wounded and arrested but made no mention of his death, which was reported by the Health Ministry.
Mostafa had opened fire earlier at a nearby store owned by a Christian, the Interior Ministry said.
No group took immediate responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of Islamic terrorists, who have for years battled security forces in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency now led by a local affiliate of Islamic State. It is centered in the turbulent northern part of Sinai but has also carried out attacks in the mainland.
The terrorists are mainly targeting security personnel and Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.
The latest attack, in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan, showcases the difficulties faced by security forces in containing an insurgency that is growing in sophistication and brutality. The assault came a little more than a month after terrorists killed 311 worshippers inside a mosque in Sinai, the deadliest terror attack on civilians in Egypt’s modern history.
Last week, terrorists fired a guided rocket that destroyed an army helicopter at the airport of the city of el-Arish in northern Sinai during an unannounced visit there by the defense and interior ministers. At least one senior officer was killed and two wounded in that attack, which pointed to an unusually high level of intelligence available to the terrorists.
Since December 2016, Egypt’s Copts have been targeted by the terrorists, who waged a series of attacks that left more than 100 dead and scores wounded. The country has been under a state of emergency since April after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches.
The IS affiliate has claimed responsibility for all the bombings targeting Christians.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. They have long complained of discrimination in the Muslim-majority nation and say that authorities have often failed to protect them from sectarian attacks.
Last week, hundreds of Muslim demonstrators stormed an unlicensed church south of Cairo, wounding three people. The demonstrators shouted anti-Christian slogans and called for the church’s demolition, according to the local diocese. The demonstrators destroyed the church’s fittings and assaulted Christians inside before security personnel arrived and dispersed them.