GUNMEN have shot dead 28 people in an attack on a group of Coptic Christians travelling to a monastery in Egypt.
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”.
The Health Ministry in Egypt reports that 25 people were wounded and that many children were among the victims.
Eyewitnesses who spoke to Reuters described masked men opening fire after stopping the Christians, who were travelling in a bus and other vehicles to the monastery of St Samuel the Confessor, in Minya province.
“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. “Everyone is trying to identify the dead and wounded.” The gunmen “came out of a nearby mountain and lay hiding in wait”, he said. “Policemen are there looking for them now.”
The Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has called a meeting of security officials.
The Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Professor Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, called on Egyptians to “unite in the face of this brutal terrorism”. He was speaking from Germany, where, with Archbishop Welby, he is attending the Kirchentag, the biennial Protestant church congress.
The Archbishop prayed for “a united rejection of the horrific actions of those who perpetrate terror”. He also prayed for the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, who visited Lambeth Palace this month, and asked on his behalf “for wisdom and courage, for unshaking faith, for steadfastness and for endurance”.
The British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, condemned the "disgusting" attack and said that people in Britain "share the shock, grief and anger" of Egyptians.
"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."
A three-month state of emergency was declared in Egypt last month, after attacks on churches on Palm Sunday 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.
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 said last year that there had been 37 violent episodes in the province since 2013. In one outbreak, seven Coptic homes were set on fire and an elderly woman was stripped and beaten (News, 3 June).
In an interview with the New York Times last year, Bishop Makarios said that Christians in Minya were “at breaking-point”. In 2013, he escaped unhurt after a convoy of vehicles in which he was travelling came under fire (News, 4 October, 2013). He was on his way to offer condolences to the family of a Christian who had been murdered after selling property to donate money to the Church.