The Congregation was leaving service as gunman fired
By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS – Dec. 30, 2017) — At least nine people were shot to death and several others wounded after gunmen attacked parishioners leaving a worship service (Friday, Dec.29) in a town south of Cairo, according to the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
Eight of those killed were Christians, officials said, according to Morning Star News (www.morningstarnews.org). Some of those wounded were in critical condition after the attack by two gunmen on a motorbike at about 10:30 a.m. on the St. Menas “Mar Mina” Coptic Orthodox church in Helwan.
Morning Star News reports the Interior Ministry said in a press statement one of the gunmen dismounted and tried to break through the security barrier in front of the church premises, but police stopped him. The assailant reportedly shot and killed the non-commissioned officer, and then he shot randomly at parishioners as they were coming out of the church building.
Security forces returning fire injured the assailant while his accomplice tried to break through the security barrier and enter the church building with explosives, according to the Interior Ministry. Its statement said one of the gunmen escaped, while the other, who also had an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), was wounded and arrested, but state media reported that the wounded attacker was killed.
The Interior Ministry reportedly identified the wounded assailant as Ibrahim Ismail Mostafa, and said that he had been involved in previous attacks.
Besides six people around the church building and the security officer, two other people were killed when one of the gunmen previously shot at nearby shops, according to the Interior Ministry.
The Islamic State’s Aamaq news agency reported late Friday the local affiliate of the terrorist group reportedly claimed responsibility for the assault, saying it was carried out by a “security detail,” and that one of its members was “martyred.”
Church staff members quickly closed the doors to the building as the gunmen fired at the door, walls and worshippers, leaving bullet holes and blood around the site, witnesses said.
“We were running everywhere, not knowing where to go in terror,” a witness told a Morning Star News contact in the area. “The man was walking in broad daylight holding his machine gun and shooting at wherever he wants. He showed no fear and was on a rampage.”
The exchange of gunfire went on at least 15 minutes, witnesses said.
“Empty cartridges were on the ground, the church wall was riddled with bullet holes, and patches of bloodstains on the ground had not yet dried,” the area resident told the Morning Star News contact. “People were crying, and others were silent in shock.”
Security had been ramped up since early December with extra forces and police checkpoints at the gates, in addition to the church security. Some nearby streets had been indefinitely closed, while others had been closed only during church services.
Health ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed told state television that eight of the slain victims of the attack were Christians, and one was Muslim. He said there were five people injured, including two women in critical condition, and that one of the gunmen had been killed.
Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, and they are concerned about more attacks. Police and the armed forces have reportedly increased security and closed all churches in the Helwan area.
The Interior Ministry said the gunmen who escaped is an active militant who has committed other terrorist attacks against police and military personnel.
The attack follows the killing of a Coptic Orthodox priest outside Cairo in October. On April 9, bomb attacks on two Coptic churches holding Palm Sunday services in different cities in Egypt killed at least 44 people and injured more than 100 others.
Last week hundreds of Muslims attacked a church south of Cairo, wounding three people. Calling for its demolition, the assailants damaged parts of the church building and assaulted Christians within before security officers arrived and dispersed them, according to the Associated Press.
At least one gunman was killed by the police, the spokesman, Boules Haliem, said by telephone, according to the New York Times newspaper.
“He did not manage to get in,” Mr. Haliem said of the gunman in the New York Times report. Worshipers were attacked as they were leaving the church, he said, and at least eight were killed, along with one police officer. Eight 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.
Two of the wounded were in critical condition, he said.
The New York Times stated Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 96 million. It said this was not the first deadly assault on Christian worshipers in Cairo, but the capital is not accustomed to this sort of attack on civilians.
The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement that was circulated on the messaging app Telegram. The statement said that 10 people had been killed, and it described the victims as “crusaders” and “apostates.” The statement also said that one of the attackers had been killed.
The assault came just over a month after Egypt’s deadliest terror attack, in which more than 300 Sufi Muslims were killed at a mosque in the Sinai Peninsula, as the militant group steps up its campaign of violence against Egypt’s minorities.
The Islamic State 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 attacking buses 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. To many, the assault is a disturbing reminder of the militants’ expanding activity in mainland Egypt.
Note: Egypt is ranked 21st on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where is it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Photo captions: 1) St. Menas Coptic church site after shooting in Helwan, Egypt on Dec. 29, 2017. (Middle East Concern). 2) Egyptian police officers inspecting the site of the attack on Friday. (Credit Samer Abdallah/Agence France-Presse). 3) Michael Ireland of ASSIST News Service.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. You may follow Michael on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelIrelandMediaMissionary , and on Twitter at @Michael_ASSIST. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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