Islamists kills 9 in Cairo, outside of Coptic Chuch

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130305AA002.jpegCairo--Islamists attacked churchgoers in the working-class Cairo suburb of Helwan Friday with militants spraying gunfire at worshipers and a police guard just one week before the country’s Coptic Christian community celebrates Christmas (EDS: January 7) – a date based on the ancient Egyptian calendar.

Nine people were killed in the drive-by assault, according to the Health Ministry in Cairo, while security forces announced they have a suspect in custody. No group has claimed responsibility.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry had already allocated 230,000 security personnel to secure the country’s 2,626 churches before Christmas but the three armed guards at the St. Mina Church had insufficient ammunition to confront the two assailants, according to eyewitness.

“It’s worrisome that the officers did not have enough bullets to engage against this threat,” said Father Boutros Anis, who added that it was clear the attackers knew the time of church services and calibrated the attack to hit as many worshippers as possible.

Emad George, a religious school teacher, said he saw a blast of gunfire penetrate the door of the church at around 10:45 a.m. local time. What came after was horrifying.

“When I heard the shooting, I sent the children inside the sanctuary,” said George. “Then I looked out the window and saw an elderly man stuck down by the terrorists. His head was completely obliterated by multiple bullets.”

Father Bolos Younan said four of his congregants were taken away by ambulance for medical care shortly after the attack.

President Abel Fatah El Sisi was quick to condemn the attack that came just after a deadly assault on a Sufi Mosque in the North Sinai that left over 300 dead. Islamic State is believed by Egyptian authorities to have been responsible for that attack.

ISIS considers the mystical Sufi trend in Islam to be heretical and Christians infidels.

The area between the Nile Valley and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza has witnessed a four-year battle between Islamic State fighters and Egyptian security services.

“These desperate terrorist attempts will not undermine the resolve and the entrenched national unity of the Egyptian people,” said Bassam Rady, spokesman for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “They only increase our determination to continue on the path to eliminate terrorism and extremism.

The president is strongly supported by most of the Coptic Christian community.

Sisi will reportedly attend the dedication next week of the largest church in the Middle East – on a 15-acre site in the new administrative capital 28 miles east of Cairo.

But the president’s vision of Christians and Muslim co-existence is not embraced by Egypt’s militant Islamists whose leaders have fled the country or been imprisoned since Sisi’s 2013 ascension to power.

A year ago, an Islamic State's local affiliate claimed an attack on a Cairo church that left 25 dead and two Palm Sunday bombings killed over 40 people.

And anti-Christian sentiments are not limited to supporters of militant jihadi organizations.

Last Friday, a mob stormed a property that had been used as a place of worship by Christians in the village of Atfieh, 50 miles south of Cairo.

Muslim villagers heard a rumor that church bells were to be installed atop the house where their Christian neighbors assembled for prayer.

“There is a connection between the attack in Atfieh and today’s bloody assault,” said Ishaak Ibrahim, chief religious minorities researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a rights group. “We witnessed increasing attacks on Coptic Christians in 2017 and this is the just the latest in the chain.”

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials have become increasingly irritated over American attention to the situation of the Coptic community.

On Wednesday Egyptian lawmakers held a hearing to respond to a bill before the US Congress expressing concern over attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt.

“Solving problems of Copts in Egypt is a matter that does not require foreign intervention," said Diaa Rashwan, chairman of the State Information Service. "It is a domestic issue."

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