Ten people were killed Friday, as militants opened fire on the Mar Mina Church in the Helwan suburb south of Cairo and attacked a Copt-owned shop, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement.
Eyewitnesses said that the attackers started the attack by shooting at the shop, which was owned by a Coptic citizen, killing two men. Then shots were heard at the Mar Mina Church.
The Ministry of Interior said in a statement that the attacker tried to break into the security outpost stationed outside the church. Police said at least one masked militant attacked the security post guarding the church, but an exchange of fire led to the killing of a police officer and six civilians.
The ministry said that the police stopped a possible suicide bombing.
The police described the arrested attacker as a dangerous militant that had previously participated in several attacks that targeted security personnel. It was not immediately clear how many assailants were involved, as an eyewitness told Daily News Egypt that one was killed, one injured, and one escaped.
The attack came days before Coptic Christians celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7.
The Coptic Church published a statement with the names of the casualties. A total of seven Copts died outside the church, plus one police officer.
A funeral was held on Friday and was attended by the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II. A sermon was also given by Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church Bishop Rafael, who asserted that security tactics are not enough to deal with extremists.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi expressed his condolences for the victims of the attack and their families. “These terrorist attempts will not affect the will of Egyptians,” he said in a statement.
Hours after the attack, the Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic State militant group, said that a squad of militants executed the attack on the church, without revealing any details. The agency, however, released a video allegedly showing a masked supposed assailant stating his pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and encouraging other militants in Sinai.
The Friday attack was condemned by several local and international entities. Egypt’s Muslim religious bodies said the attack is an attempt to divide between the “sons of the same nation.”
US President Donald Trump phoned Al-Sisi and asserted that the US is keen on supporting Egypt in its fight against terrorism.
Last week, the Ministry of Interior announced that a security raid killed five individuals in Qalyubia suspected of planning to attack Coptic churches during the coming holiday season.
The statement said that the killed individuals were planning to attack “Christian houses of worship in order to negatively affect the security and economic status of the country.” It explained that police personnel approached the location where militants were allegedly hiding, but an exchange of fire took place and led to the killing of the five individuals.
On 11 December last year, in the midst of a Sunday mass, at least 27 people—mainly women and children—were killed. In 2017, another series of attacks left at least 45 people dead and over a hundred injured in two separate but subsequent bombings at St. George Church in Tanta and St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria.
The attacks sparked the implementation of a three-month state of emergency by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the formation of a new national council to combat terrorism, and the opening of debates on methods to face extremist discourse.
Last week, the Egyptian Parliament dedicated one of its main sessions to respond to a draft law that has been presented to the American Congress in order to highlight “violations against Coptic Christians in Egypt.”
The bill, drafted by Coptic Solidarity, an American non-governmental organisation based in Washington, was prepared to support Copts in Egypt, and will be presented to the US Congress for review.