By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– The Islamic State terror group has claimed responsibility for shootings at a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Egypt’s capital Cairo that left at least 11 people dead.
Government and church officials said the suspect involved in the violence Friday, December 29, was wounded and detained.
The Coptic Church explained that the gunman, who arrived on a motorcycle, first shot at a Christian-owned shop 4 kilometers (3 miles) away, killing two people, before proceeding to the Mar Mina church in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry reported that he opened fire at the entrance to the church and tried to throw an explosive device.
The gunman killed at least nine people, including a policeman, at the site, according to Interior Ministry and Coptic Church accounts. The Church said a young woman died later from her wounds, bringing the civilian death toll at the church to eight.
In separate remarks, the health ministry said five people were wounded, including two women in a severe condition.
Initial reports by security sources and state media said at least two attackers participated in Friday’s attack, and that one was shot dead, and another fled the scene. The interior ministry did not explain the reason for the different accounts, news reports said.
Sama’an Farag, a church keeper at the Mar Mina church, told local media that he quickly shut and locked the gates of the building when he heard gunfire, saving the lives of dozens of children attending an after-school prayer at the church.
“I was sitting behind the door, and I heard gunfire outside. I managed to run and close the door and we took the people upstairs,” he was quoted as saying. [But] I heard that there was a paralyzed man who was killed with his wife. We felt sad for him and the other people and the officer who died.”
Soon after a joint funeral for eight of those killed was held on Friday evening at the Virgin Mary church in Helwan. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, led mourning for the victims.
Friday’s attack was the latest violence targeting the country’s embattled Christian minority who comprise roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s mainly Muslim population.
Islamic militants have claimed several attacks on Egyptian Christians, also known a Copts, in recent years, including two bombings on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral in December 2016 that killed at least 28 people.
Egypt’s government has come under pressure to improve the security of Christians and other minorities amid ongoing Islamic attacks.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered security forces to increase safety measures at sensitive sites, after offering his condolences to the families, his office said in a statement. The Interior Ministry also said that security forces had “immediately dealt with the (attacker) and arrested him after he was wounded” following Friday’s attack. It added that “legal measures have been taken,” without elaborating.
Police reportedly stepped up security measures around churches ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations on January 7. Officers were seen outside Christian places of worship, and police set up metal detectors at some of the larger churches. Egypt is also facing a deadly Islamic State insurgency in the North Sinai region.
Questions remained Friday, December 29, whether the announced security measures would be enough to prevent more attacks.
(With additional reporting from Egypt and BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).