EGYPT – Christian pilgrims massacred when gunmen attack buses
Gunmen attacked a bus convoy carrying Coptic Christians in Minya, central Egypt, killing at least 28 people including children and wounding 25 others. Two buses carrying worshipers from the nearby province of Beni Suef and a pickup truck carrying laborers were travelling together to the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor, where 100 monks live.
Seven masked armed assailants who came in three pickup trucks lay in wait for the victims on a sandy road leading from a busy highway to the monastery, located 135km (85 miles) south of Cairo. They waved down the vehicles filled with Christian pilgrims. Claiming to be security officers, the gunmen ordered the passengers to get out. They separated the men from the women and children, and instructed them to surrender their mobile phones. Peter Edwar, a Christian activist who was among the first on the scene, said the gunmen told the men to recite the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith. When the men refused, the gunmen opened fire.
Among the first to be killed were the drivers including Atef Mounir, a 62-year-old construction worker, who was shot in the head. Survivors of the attack said “the terrorists made a group get out of their vehicles and took their phones. Then they shot everyone.” Survivors also told local media that terrorists stole valuables as jewelry. Some witnesses reported the militants filmed the entire attack. Not everyone was forced out of their vehicles, which explains how dozens had survived.
“By the time they killed half of the people, the terrorists saw cars coming in the distance and we think that that is what saved the rest,” said Magdy Malek, a lawmaker in Minya who visited victims of the attack on Friday. “They did not have time to kill them all. They just shot at them randomly and then fled.”
The wounded were rushed to hospitals in Minya where doctors desperately tried to save their lives as hundreds of people searched for news about their relatives. “Everyone is trying to identify the dead and wounded,” said Bishop Makarios, the leader of the Copts in Minya. “There is no time for anger yet.” The attack was the latest crisis for Makarios, who had previously criticised the lack of security in Egypt following earlier attacks in Minya. In the governorate of Minya, about one-third of the population is Christian, the highest proportion in Egypt.
Last Saturday, May 27, a Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of San Marcos in the city of Bani Mazar, province of Minia, in memory of the faithful who were killed.That day, Hanan Fuad, a woman who lost her neighbors, said that a similar tragedy could happen again. “Not a month goes by without Christians being killed. Why Christians? Because they say that we are a minority, infidels, ” she lamented.
Following the attack on Friday 26, Fr. Rafic Greiche, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, stated that “terrorists have a long-term goal of expelling Christians from Egypt, as happened in Iraq, where as soon as Islamic state conquered Mosul, the first thing it did was expel all Christians. ”
On hearing about the attack, Pope Francis sent a telegram saying ‘Deeply saddened to learn of the barbaric attack in central Egypt and of the tragic loss of life and injury caused by this senseless act of hatred, Pope Francis expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this violent outrage.’
During his Regina Caeli address the Pope said, “I wish to express my closeness to my dear brother [Coptic Orthodox] Pope Tawadros II and the Orthodox Coptic community in Egypt, which two days ago suffered another act of fierce violence.”
“Victims, faithful, including children, were going to a sanctuary to pray, and were killed,” he decried, “when they refused to deny their Christian faith.The Lord welcomes these brave witnesses in His peace,” the Pope prayed, appealing, “may He convert the hearts of the violent.”
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the massacre but it bore the hallmarks of Islamic State, which has repeatedly targeted Copts in recent months and vowed to do so again. This latest attack is a coldblooded escalation of sectarian violence targeting minority Christians that has left more than 100 people dead since December and shaken the country’s government.
A few hours after the attack, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi delivered a speech from the presidential palace warning that the attack on Christians “will not go unanswered.” Egyptian military announced that Egyptian fighter jets had carried out airstrikes on several militant camps inside Libya including the town of Derna, a base of several Islamist militias.
This was not the first such reprisal as Egypt also attacked Libyan targets in 2015 after militants beheaded 21 Coptic Christian migrants. However, the attacks on Libya suggest that the gunmen responsible for the latest massacre could have come through Egypt’s western desert.