According to Fr Greiche, a spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, militants want to "purify Egypt and the Middle East of the Christian presence." The attack on the eve of Ramadan is the "the worst advertisement". It is a sad moment for Egypt and “Muslims who want to live peace". Tonight, prayers and services will be held in memory of the victims.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – Christians are “targeted by terrorists;” this is “a fact. From their distorted perspective, such actions "are an attempt to purify Egypt and the Middle East of the Christian presence,” said Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, who talked to AsiaNews about today’s attack against Coptic Christians.
"Different sources give contradictory figures for the number of casualties,” Fr Greiche noted. “Some reports say 23; others, 25; the latest rumours say 26 dead (36 according to others). What is certain is that there are also many children among the victims."
In its initial reporting, Egypt’s state news agency, citing local sources, said that about a dozen men armed with automatic weapons, stopped a bus carrying pilgrims to the monastery of Anba Samuel in Minya Governorate, south of Cairo, then opened fire on the passengers. One apparently taped the slaughter with a smartphone. According to the latest news, “The terrorists attacked at least three vehicles,” Fr Rafic said.
In addition to the dead, dozens of people were wounded, some in serious conditions, by a group of Jihadis, perhaps linked to the Islamic State group, active in the area. Eyewitnesses claim that gunmen were wearing military uniforms.
The pilgrims were travelling to an orthodox monastery in Upper Egypt, about 300 kilometres from Cairo. Many people visit the monastery on week-ends to pray and attend Mass, especially on Friday, which is the day off in Egypt.
"Many people came for the [religious] services,” Fr Greiche said, and were “an easy target for terrorists.” In fact, "Today is the eve of Ramadan, which the terrorists picked for their attack,” he added. “They did the same on 11 December, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. They attack when there are a lot of people. "
In addition to being a “sad moment for Egypt and Egyptians, especially for Muslims who want to live in peace,” this new attack a few hours before the start of the Islamic month of fasting and prayer "is the worst advertisement" terrorists can have. "This evening, we shall pray for the new Christian victims during Mass and other services.”
Today's incident is but the latest in a long trail of blood among Egypt’s Christian minority (10 per cent of the population). At least 75 Christians have been killed by Muslim extremists over the past few months, in last month’s church attacks, in the Palm Sunday bombing, as well as last December’s attack against St Catherine Coptic cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo.
Following these attacks, the Islamic State group (also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh) claimed responsibility for them and threatened more violence against the country’s Christian minority.
The rising violence almost scuttled Pope Francis's apostolic visit to Egypt in late April. The pontiff went ahead anyway and met with Egyptian President al-Sisi, al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayeb, and celebrated Mass in front of tens of thousands of faithful.
Recently, Egypt’s public prosecutor charged 48 alleged Islamic State militants and sympathisers in connection with three attacks against Coptic churches. At present, 31 are in prison, whilst the others are still on the run.
In light of the escalation of violence, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has imposed a state of emergency across the country. Today he chaired a meeting of his security council during which he pledged an all-out war against extremist and Jihadi movements operating in the country. (DS)