CAIRO — At least two attackers opened fire on a Coptic church in the Cairo suburb of Helwan Friday, just over a week before Orthodox Christmas celebrations in Egypt. Andn police say they thwarted an even bigger tragedy by preventing a militant wearing a suicide belt from entering the church.
Amateur video showed people scrambling for cover as a gun battle rages between Egyptian security forces and militants attacking the Mar Mina Coptic Church in the Cairo suburb of Helwan. One of the attackers was killed by police and another was apprehended.
Egyptian Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed told Arab media around 10 people were killed, including one of the attackers. he said other victims were taken to several local hospitals in the region of Helwan, where some were undergoing emergency surgery.
Arab media showed video of civilians outside the church firing on the attackers to try and stop their deadly rampage.
A man looks at bullet holes and blood stains at the site of attack on Mar Mina church in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 29, 2017
Several policemen and civilian guards were reportedly killed defending the church. The Egyptian interior ministry has stepped up security measures outside churches in the lead-up to Coptic Christmas celebrations on January 7.
Terrorists have carried out a number of deadly attacks against churches and mosques in Egypt during the past year.
A suicide bomber killed at least 27 people inside Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral last December, while a bomb blast killed around two dozen people at a Coptic church in Tanta, on Palm Sunday. A suicide bomber was also prevented from entering the main Coptic cathedral in Alexandria on Palm Sunday, resulting in a smaller number of casualties.
The bloodiest attack on worshippers in recent Egyptian history took place last month when militants attacked a Sufi mosque in the northern Sinai town of Bir al-Abed. Nearly 300 people were killed in that attack.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the mosque attack. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, however, accused some countries in the region, which he did not name, of supporting the terrorists.
Coptic Patriarch Tawadros told Egyptian TV before the attack that the country “is waging a bitter and bloody battle against terrorists,” but that the people remain “resilient.”
Also speaking on Egyptian TV, General Mohamed Zaki, a former deputy interior minister, accused outside parties of trying to destabilize the country, saying it is clear there is a criminal plot to target stability in Egypt and the future of the state and its institutions by sowing fear in the hearts of its people, especially during religious holidays.
He added that the government has taken exceptional measures to prevent evil-doers from carrying out their plans.
Arab media has reported that many Islamic militants have been attempting to flee Syria and Iraq to parts of north Africa, including Egypt, following the defeat of the Islamic State group in some areas.