Police raid Jihadi cell in Cairo set to attack churches at Easter

The group was hiding in al-Amiriyah, a district in eastern Cairo. During the gun battle, which lasted several hours, one policeman and seven suspects were killed. Reports indicate that the cell was linked to the Islamic State group. For Egyptian priest, there are no particular fears or concerns since churches and mosques are closed due to the coronavirus.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Egyptian security forces yesterday neutralised a jihadi cell with alleged ties to the Islamic State group in a district in eastern Cairo. The group was preparing to attack the Christian community during the upcoming Coptic Easter celebrations.

The police turned into a gun battle that lasted at least four hours. At the end of the shootout, one policeman and seven suspected terrorists were dead.

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr Rafic Greiche, head of media committee of the Council of Churches of Egypt, said that the incident “won’t frighten or concern” Christians since “most places of worship," including “churches and mosques are closed" and worshippers are not allowed in because of the COVID-19 virus.

"I don't think, and this is my personal opinion, that the churches could have been a real target,” said the clergyman. The terrorist group “perhaps intended to strike elsewhere”.

The incident unfolded in al-Amiriyah, a residential district in eastern Cairo where the terrorists had their base.

After receiving a tip-off, police moved in, preventing a series of attacks against police forces and Coptic churches in connection with Orthodox Easter scheduled next Sunday.

Inside the flat, police found several weapons and a huge cache of ammunition to be used in the attacks.

Sources in Egypt’s Interior Ministry report that three officers were also injured in the shooting, with one needing hospitalisation.

The cell was reportedly linked to the Islamic State group, which is still active in Egypt, especially in northern Sinai and the capital.

In the days prior to the police operation, the cell allegedly collected information about Christian places of worship in the district, which had been closed because of a government order.

Analysts and experts note that al-Amiriyah is among the most densely populated districts in Cairo, with narrow streets, an ideal hiding place for a group that "wants to prepare an attack".

At present, the novel coronavirus has captured public attention; for terrorists, this provided an opportunity to strike, but the security services received information that enabled them to stop the terrorists’ plans.

In recent weeks, social media linked to the Islamic State group have been calling for attacks during the ongoing health emergency.

Egypt has almost 95 million people with a large Muslim majority. Christians, especially Orthodox Copts, are a substantial minority, about 10 per cent of the population.

Between 2016 and 2017, the latter were the target of a series of brutal attacks.

In 2018 a military court sentenced 17 people to death in connection with these attacks; however, the government’s iron fist has not stop the violence. Last year for example, an attack against Christians on Christmas Eve was foiled only by the prompt intervention of an imam.