EGYPT has carried out air strikes in Libya in response to a gun attack that left 29 Coptic Christians dead.
Eyewitnesses who spoke to Reuters described masked men stopping the Christians, who were travelling in a bus and other vehicles to the monastery of St Samuel the Confessor, in Minya province, and then opening fire.
“The gunmen got on the bus, and they shot people point-blank,” the Coptic Bishop of Minya Province, His Grace Anba Makarios, told the New York Times. The gunmen had come “out of a nearby mountain and lay hiding in wait”.
The Health Ministry in Egypt reported that 25 other people had been wounded, and that many children were among the victims. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Egyptian government responded by launching air raids over Libya. A military spokesman said on Saturday that they had destroyed camps where the “terrorist elements” who carried out the Minya attacks had trained. A spokesman for the Libyan National Army, a faction allied with Egypt, said that the strikes had been carried out in partnership.
Minya, in Upper Nile, has one of the highest concentrations of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and has been subject to outbreaks of sectarian violence. Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, said last year that there had been 37 violent episodes in the province since 2013. In one outbreak, seven Coptic homes had been set on fire, and an elderly woman was stripped and beaten (News, 3 June 2016).
In an interview with the New York Times last year, Bishop Makarios said that Christians in Minya were “at breaking-point”. In 2013, he had escaped unhurt after a convoy of vehicles in which he was travelling had come under fire (News, 4 October 2013).
The Archbishop of Canterbury said on Friday that he was “heartbroken by the news of another awful attack on men, women, and children, murdered because of their faith in Jesus Christ”. He prayed for “a united rejection of the horrific actions of those who perpetrate terror”. He also prayed for Pope Tawadros II, who visited Lambeth Palace last month, and asked on his behalf “for wisdom and courage, for unshaking faith, for steadfastness, and for endurance”.
In an interview with Sky News on Friday, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Bishop Angaelos, said that he wanted to address not the victims but the perpetrators and say: “You are loved. You are loved by God as your creator . . . you are loved by me and millions like me, not for what you do but . . . because we believe in transformation.”
In a letter to Bishop Angaelos the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, wrote: "Our hearts are torn apart again".
The Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Professor Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, called on Egyptians to “unite in the face of this brutal terrorism”.
The British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, condemned the “disgusting” attack and said that people in Britain shared the Egyptians’ “shock, grief, and anger”. “The terrorists killing innocent Egyptians are the same enemies we are fighting in the United Kingdom and around the world,” he said. “From Manchester to Minya, their aim is to sow hatred and fear, and to divide community from community and nation from nation. We must not allow them to spread hatred or divide us. We will work relentlessly with Egypt and the world until we defeat the terrorist groups, and uproot those who support them.”
At a funeral for seven of the victims, held at the Church of the Sacred Family on Friday in the village of Dayr Jarnous, there was a protest march, Reuters reported. Young men carrying a large wooden cross chanted: “With blood and soul, we will defend you, O cross! We will avenge them or die like them. There is no god but God, and the Messiah is God!”
A three-month state of emergency was declared in Egypt last month after attacks on churches on Palm Sunday had left dozens dead (News, 13 April). Last week, 48 suspected members of Islamic State were referred to a military court in connection with the bombings.
Measures taken by the Egyptian government in the name of security have proved controversial. They have included the blocking of access to websites, including Al-Jazeera and Huffington Post Arabic. On Monday, a new law was issued to regulate the work of non-governmental organisations, including banning them from engaging in political activities.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has previously warned that the law “effectively eradicates civil society” in Egypt (News, 16 December).