Eight Christians and a Muslim policeman have been killed in an Islamist terror attack on a church in the southern Cairo district of Helwan. Egyptian government officials say that a gunman attacked and killed two Coptic brothers in a shop, before moving onto the Mar Mina Church. Six Christians were killed here, along with an auxiliary policeman. The attack took place on Friday (29 December). The gunman was arrested after being shot by security forces. He is reported to have had an explosive device and a machine gun with 150 rounds. The country’s interior ministry said that the man was known to security services and was believed to have “carried out several terrorist attacks which resulted in the martyrdom of a number of policemen and civilians.” Two Copts were killed in a separate attack on New Year’s Eve in Giza province
The policeman who was killed in Friday’s attack was part of an Egyptian government security operation at the Church. Authorities have stepped up security at churches ahead of Christmas celebrations, which is celebrated by the Coptic and other Orthodox churches on 7 January.
The increased security measures include the deployment of rapid reaction forces and combat troops along with technological solutions.
Today (Monday), the Associated Press news agency is reporting that two more Coptic Christians were killed in a New Year’s Eve attack on their off-licence in Giza province by a gunman shouting that the men were Christians. In total, more than 120 Christians have been killed by terrorists in Egypt in 2017. Egypt has seen a recent upsurge in violence by terrorists linked to Daesh. These latest attacks come just one month after 310 Muslims were killed in an attack on al-Rawda mosque in Bir al-Abed, North Sinai.
Responding to the attack, the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Mouneer Anis, said that he was “deeply saddened” by the “cowardly terrorist” attack. He asked for people to pray for the bereaved families and those injured in the attack.
Bishop Mouneer also gave thanks to the national security operation, and the policemen who “showed great courage in fighting the attack.” He said: “it would have been much worse if it wasn’t for our brave policemen”.
On its website, the diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, urged people to pray “for protection and safety in Egypt.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, used Twitter to share his response to the attack, saying: “Coptic Christians suffer again from those possessed by evil.” He added: “They are a peaceful community, giving much to Egypt. Their agony must be ours in prayer & advocacy.
“We pray for all killed & hurt, including the Muslim policeman. May they know strength from Christ who suffers with us.”
The Coptic Bishop of London, Bishop Angaelos, is a member of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC). In a statement on Saturday he said that he was “saddened . . . that we find ourselves once again mourning the loss of the precious lives of innocent children, women and men who did no more than attend their local parish to pray as millions do around the world.”
He said that the terror attack “directly targeted the indigenous Christian community of Egypt, but alongside the Christians who lost their lives, there was at least one Muslim member of the security services who paid the ultimate price to protect his fellow Egyptian citizens exercising their right to worship.
“Even at this painful time, the Christians of Egypt, who have mourned over 120 members in the past year as a result of targeted attacks on Churches and individuals, continue to do what they have done for centuries; they are resilient, forgiving, hopeful, and praying for Egypt, and its leadership, during this trying time of its contemporary history.”
Bishop Angaelos added: “I hope that the extraordinary reaction of this faithful community that I am honoured to call my own might transform the hearts of those who continue to seek its destruction.”
The Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad Al Tayyib, a senior Muslim cleric, responded to the attack by calling on Muslims to unite with Christians for Christmas celebrations. He said that “all Egyptian people are urged to stand firm against this evil conspiracy and make these good days an opportunity to emphasise this through Muslims joining their Coptic brethren in celebrating the anniversary of Christ's birth.”
Security will continue to be tight in Egypt as the country approaches Orthodox Christmas celebrations on 7 January.