12/29/2017, 14.27
EGYPT
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Gunmen attack Coptic church south of Cairo, killing ten and wounding at least 20

Two of the victims are said to be police officers. A gunman with explosive belt was also shot dead. The target was the Mar Mina church in Helwan, south of Cairo. Fearing attacks, the authorities have been on a high state of alert for days.

Cario (AsiaNews) – At least ten people have been killed and twenty wounded in an attack on a Coptic Orthodox church this morning in Helwan, an area south of Cairo.

Two of the victims were said to be be police officers. One gunman was shot dead by security forces (pictured). Although information remains uncertain, a second gunman appears to have escaped and is still at large.

The target of the attack was the Mar Mina Coptic Church, which was preparing to celebrate Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.

The authorities have been on a high state of alert for days in fear of possible attacks, with rapid reaction forces deployed.

Eyewitnesses said that security forces defused an explosive belt that was fasten around the dead gunman. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

A group of Catholics was visiting the neighbourhood for the traditional exchange of good wishes with local Christian families.

Sources told AsiaNews that police sealed the area, blocking access. Visitors already there were asked to leave the area "immediately".

In a nation of almost 95 million people with a large Muslim majority, Coptic Christians are a substantial minority of around 10 per cent of the population.

Last year the country aw a series of bloody attacks, some involving Christians. The escalation of violence almost led to the cancellation of Pope Francis’s apostolic journey to Egypt last April.

However, the pontiff was able to visit the country where he met with its president and the great imam of al-Azhar and celebrated Mass before tens of thousands of people.

Meanwhile, Catholic Christmas took place amid tight security measures, but no incidents were reported as crowds filled the churches.

Now “the celebrations of the Coptic Orthodox Church can be held,” Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, told AsiaNews. “The alarm levels are high, an attempt at attack can never be ruled out,” which is what happened today. (DS)

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