Gunmen kill at least 26 Coptic Christians in central Egypt – Washington Post

Militants in military-style uniforms opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt on Friday, killing at least 26 people in the latest bloodshed targeting the country’s Christian minority, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for previous attacks against Egypt’s Christians, who are about 10 percent of the population.

The ambush-style assault about 150 miles south of Cairo also underscored the increasing pressures on Egyptian security forces as Islamists militants gain greater footholds around the country.

Khaled Mogahed, a spokesman for Egypt’s Health Ministry, said there were also 16 wounded in Friday’s attack, which took place on the eve of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry, which set the death toll at 26, said gunmen in three vehicles opened fire as the bus headed to a monastery in the Minya region. A member of the area’s security department, Major Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, told reporters that about 10 men wearing military-style gear carried out the attack.

Much of Egypt’s Christian population is concentrated around the center of the country, near Minya and Assiut. Both places have several important pilgrimage sites.

Last month, twin bomb blasts rocked churches in the Mediterranean port Alexandria and the northern city of Tanta, leaving 44 dead and prompting Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, to declare a state of emergency.

After the latest attack, Sissi called an emergency meeting of security officials, state-run media reported.

In late April, Pope Francis visited Egypt as part of Vatican outreach to Egypt’s embattled Christians, whose community dates back to the early centuries of the faith. But the papal trip also brought denunciations from Islamist militants.

In December, a bomb hit the main cathedral in Cairo, killing 25 people as part of what is being described as a new strategy by the Islamic State to target Christians.

Christians have been generally supportive of Sissi’s military-backed government, but have become increasingly critical of the country’s security forces inability to protect their places of worship.

Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

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