Gunmen attacked vehicles transporting Coptic Christians in Minya Province, Egypt, early Friday. The attack left at least 20 dead, according to state news agencies, and is yet another lethal assalt on the country’s religious minority.
According to a Christian official in Minya Province, south of Cairo, assailants opened fire on a pickup truck carrying workmen and a bus with worshipers as they traveled in a convoy to St. Samuel’s monastery. There were many children among the worshipers.
“We are having a very hard time reaching the monastery because it is in the desert,” Ibram Samir said. “It’s very confusing. But we know that children were killed.”
Minya’s governor told Reuters that the death toll had reached 23 with 25 injured. The workmen included gardeners and builders who worked at the monastery, Samir said.
The worshipers were on their way to the monastery for an outing that typically includes about 40 children and a church chaperone, state news media reported. After the shooting, only three children were found alive and all were in critical condition.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing of the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo on December 11 as well as for the attack at a church in Alexandria on Palm Sunday, April 9. In total, the attacks killed at least 78 people. In February, a small Christian community in northern Sinai fled the town of El Arish after a series of gun attacks on homes and businesses.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt declared a state of emergency after the Palm Sunday attacks. Pope Francis condemned the violence in a visit to Egypt in April.
Christians are heavily discriminated against in Egypt which, in conjunction with the threat of violence, has led to many leaving the country in recent years.
The leadership of the Coptic Church, under Pope Tawadros II, has given vocal support to Mr. Sisi, who came to power in 2013. However, that position has also made Copts a target for violence from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists responded to the killing of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators at the hands of security forces with targeted attacks against Coptic churches and homes.
Minya is the capital of the Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt. It is located approximately 245 km south of Cairo.
The province has experienced the worst attacks on Copts recently since 2013.