Egypt’s Coptic community continues to come under fire from terrorists — this time literally. A group of men dressed in military uniforms opened fire on a bus taking Coptic Christians to a religious site in a bloody massacre that killed at least 24 people, including children:
Children are among at least 24 people massacred in Egypt and dozens more injured after gunmen opened fire on buses carrying Coptic Christians.
The health ministry said the victims had been on their way to the St Samuel Monastery when they were surrounded by eight to 10 attackers wearing military uniforms.
They were travelling in two buses and a lorry through the region, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority.
This attack comes after a high-profile visit by Pope Francis in response to attacks on two churches on Palm Sunday. Those attacks followed an attack in December, and the violence is clearly escalating despite the protestations of approved clerics in Egypt. The peace conference at al-Azhar University produced pledges of rejection of violence in religion, but ISIS said it would escalate its attacks after Francis left.
No one has yet taken responsibility for this attack, but there’s not much mystery here. However, ISIS is not the only threat to the security of Christians in Egypt:
Following the pope’s visit, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and western embassies as they are targets of their group’s militants.
Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, have repeatedly complained of suffering discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at hands of the country’s majority Muslim population.
Over the past decades, they have been the immediate targets of Islamic extremists. They rallied behind general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged, especially in the country’s south.
The tougher-than-expected address from Pope Francis had the clerics of al-Azhar on the defensive, but it had the al-Sisi government cheering. Sisi had earlier demanded an Islamic Enlightenment from al-Azhar, telling imams to disavow violence and temporal authority in order to save Islam from itself. Now both the imams and Sisi himself have to demonstrate that they will take action to meet their promises in the earlier peace conference. The imams have to speak up more loudly against religious violence, and the Sisi government has to improve the security of all minorities, but especially the Copts who are the biggest target for radical Islamists.
The world is watching. Or at least it should be.
Update: The Egyptian government now says the death toll has risen to 28. And the attackers turned out to be pretty stoked about the massacre, too:
As many as 10 attackers in 3 SUVs stormed the bus dressed in military uniforms and wearing masks, according to witnesses. The victims were on their way to visit a monastery to pray. Only three children survived the attack, the Copts United news portal reported.
Video circulating on social media after the attack showed about the bodies of about 10 men scattered in the sand on the side of the road with pools of blood around them. Children hysterically screaming could be heard in the background. Local media also reported that the attackers were recording video themselves.
Arab TV stations also showed images of the badly damaged bus along the roadside, many of its windows shattered and with numerous bullet holes. Footage of the bus’s interior showed blood stains on the seats and shattered glass.