A team of gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians south of Cairo Friday, killing at least 28, including children, and wounding 22 other people, Egyptian officials confirmed.
As many as 10 attackers in 3 SUVs stormed the bus dressed in military uniforms and wearing masks, before demanding that the passengers recite the Muslim profession of faith, according to witnesses. Then, the gunmen opened fire.
Only three children survived the attack, the Copts United news portal reported. The victims were on their way to visit a monastery to pray.
Survivors claimed the killers left behind flyers about the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins Friday evening.
Video circulating on social media after the attack showed the bodies of about 10 men scattered in the sand on the side of the road with pools of blood around them. Children hysterically screaming could be heard in the background. Local media also reported that the attackers were recording video themselves.
Arab TV stations also showed images of the badly damaged bus along the roadside, many of its windows shattered and with numerous bullet holes. Footage of the bus’s interior showed blood stains on the seats and shattered glass.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Egypt’s Coptic Christians have become the preferred target of the Islamic State in the region. Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, repeatedly have cried out for help from discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at the hands of the country’s majority Muslim population. Coptic Christians account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s 93 million people.
Among the wave of recent attacks on Egypt’s Christians: twin suicide bombings on Palm Sunday in April and another attack in December on a Cairo church, caught on video. ISIS in Egypt claimed responsibility for them and vowed more attacks.
“The government must be more intentional about protecting vulnerable minorities and punishing the attackers. Continual support for displaced families is vital, whether it is food, housing, or medical care. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this difficult time,” human rights group International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager William Stark said.
Many of Egypt’s Christians rallied behind the general-turned-president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches have surged in the ensuing years, especially in the country’s south.
In February, members of an ISIS affiliate released a video saying that Egyptian Christians were their “favorite prey.” The video showed images of a suicide bomber who killed nearly 30 people inside a packed Cairo church in December.
“God gave orders to kill every infidel,” one of the militants carrying an AK-47 assault rifle said in the 20-minute video.
The bus was traveling on the road to the St. Samuel the Confessor Monastery in the Minya Governorate, about 140 miles south of Cairo, the health ministry said.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a security message, stating that it was aware of a potential threat posted on a website by the Hassm Group, a known terrorist organization, suggesting some kind of unspecified action that evening.
Pope Francis visited Egypt late last month, in part to show his support for Christians in this Muslim majority Arab nation who have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants. During the trip, Francis paid tribute to the victims of the December bombing at Cairo’s St. Peter’s church, located in close proximity to Cairo’s St. Mark’s cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
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