At least nine killed, including members of Egypt’s Christian minority, in shooting at Marmina church in Helwan district
Nine die in attack on Christian church near Cairo – video report
Adham Youssef in Cairo
At least two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside a Coptic church south of Cairo on Friday, killing at least nine people in the latest attack on the country’s Christian minority.
The attack happened at the Marmina church in the Helwan City district on the capital’s southern outskirts. The dead include members of the congregation and a police officer killed in a shootout at the security post guarding the building. Several others were wounded.
One of the gunmen was killed after an exchange of fire with security forces, while another was arrested as he tried to escape to a narrower street across the road from the church, interior ministry sources told the Guardian.
The source said at least four of the casualties were officers from the special forces squad guarding the church. “After the attack, explosive experts dismantled two IEDs [improvised explosive devices], near the church,” he said.
The interior ministry however said in an official statement that the attack was carried out by one militant who “was going to blow himself up using a suicide belt.” It described him as a “dangerous element” who participated in several operations against security personnel.
Mostafa, an auto-rickshaw driver who was near the church, said he heard several gunshots an hour before the Muslim Friday prayers.
“Dozens of people ran to the church entrance to see the source of the shooting. I saw the terrorist lying on the floor bleeding as policemen surrounded him. He had a beard and had a big [armour] belt around him.” He was handcuffed, and the police was trying to push people away from him.
He added that after the initial attack he heard other gunshots from a nearby street.
The Coptic Orthodox church released a statement confirming the attack. “A terrorist attack has targeted the Church of the Martyr Marmina as unknown assailants fired gunshots, killing a person from the security force guarding the church as well as five of the people of the church, in addition to other injured individuals,” it said.
The office of the Egyptian president, said Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, said in a statement that he had sent his condolences to the families of the victims, adding that such “terrorist attack will not get at the well of Egyptians and their national unity.”
The grand imam of the mosque of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb called upon Egyptians to stand aganist Egyptians and “participate in the celebration of the birthday of Jesus, peace be upon him.”
Since the beginning of December, dozens of security forces have been deployed outside the country’s churches, in anticipation of militant attacks. Egypt’s Coptic Christians make up about 10% of the country’s 93 million people, and are the largest religious minority in the region.
Islamic State’s affiliate group in Egypt has killed dozens of Christians in church bombings and shootings over the past year, and has threatened further attacks.
It claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Cairo church in December 2016 and attacks on two churches north of the capital in April. A month later, Isis gunmen shot dead about 30 Christians south of Cairo as they travelled to a monastery.
The jihadis are also believed to have carried out a massacre of Muslim worshippers in Sinai last month, killing more than 300 in an attack on a mosque associated with the Sufi strand of Islam, which Isis views as heretical.
The Coptic church statement said a Christian-owned electronics shop in Helwan was also attacked before the church shootout, killing the brothers Romani and Attia Shaker.
Abanoub Ayman, an engineering student at Helwan University who lives below the shop, told the Guardian he was on his way to buy breakfast when he heard gunshots at 10am, and that the shooting lasted for five minutes.
He said two gunmen on a motorcycle had stopped at the shop. “One of them stopped and entered the store and killed one of the brothers in front of the shop. The other brother ran after the two men but was also shot dead.”
“The government [police] came and took the bodies and closed the shop,” said Ayman, who prays at the Marmina church. “It has to do with what happened at the church.”
He said the gunmen had also fired at another church, Anba Antonios, in the same area, but no one was killed.
He demanded more security around the churches, but asked: “What we are going to do? Are we going to put a whole police station in front of every church?”