Gunmen attack church near Cairo, killing nine

CAIRO • Gunmen killed at least nine people, including three police officers, in an attack on a Coptic Christian church south of Cairo yesterday, sources said.

Two attackers opened fire at the entrance to the church of Mar Mina in Helwan district, which was being guarded by police in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas celebrations next week. One attacker was shot dead by security forces, medical and security sources and the state-run news agency Mena reported.

State television said the second attacker had been captured. Cellphone footage posted on social media appeared to show a bearded gunman wearing a bulky ammunition vest sprawled on a street, barely conscious, as people restrained his arms and then handcuffed him.

Police later cordoned off the scene as onlookers crowded around the church, while a forensics team combed the area.

Egypt's Health Ministry said nine people were killed in the attack, in addition to the gunman, and five wounded, including two women in serious condition.

Local media said the dead attacker was wearing an explosives belt, and that two other bombs had been defused near the church.

Police have stepped up security measures around churches ahead of the Coptic Christmas celebrations on Jan 7, deploying officers outside Christian places of worship and setting up metal detectors at some of the bigger churches.

Egypt's Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of the country's 93 million people, and are the largest religious minority in the region.

Islamist militants have claimed several attacks on the minority in recent years, including two bombings on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo's largest Coptic cathedral last December that killed 28 people.

They are believed to have also carried out a massacre of Muslim worshippers at a Sinai mosque last month, killing more than 300, and prompting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to demand that the army quell the militants with "brutal force" following the massacre.

The latest attack on the church came a day after six Egyptian soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the Sinai.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2017, with the headline 'Gunmen attack church near Cairo, killing nine'. Print Edition | Subscribe