Skip to main content

Attack on Egypt church kills at least 11; IS claims responsibility

Militant is fatally shot by police after trying to storm church south of Cairo
Church door, damaged by gunfire, in Cairo's Helwan district (MEE contributor)

A gunman opened fire on a church south of Cairo on Friday, killing at least 11 people before he was shot dead by security forces.

The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The gunman wounded five security guards and tried to storm the building, police officials said.

Medical and security sources said three police officers were killed.

A picture of the alleged gunman's corpse published on the official Al-Ahram newspaper's website showed a bearded man wearing a bulky ammunition vest sprawled on a street.

Police have stepped up security measures around churches ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations on 7 January, deploying officers outside Christian places of worship and setting up metal detectors at some of the bigger churches.

Two churches were attacked by the same gunman (MEE contributor)

Earlier reports by security sources and state media said at least two men were involved in Friday's attack, and that one was shot dead while the other fled the scene. 

The Coptic Church said the gunman first shot at a Christian-owned shop 4 km away, killing two people, before proceeding to the Mar Mina church in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan. The Interior Ministry said he opened fire at the entrance to the site and tried to throw an explosive device.

According to a security source from the scene of the attack - a police captain affiliated with the Central Security Forces - two gunmen on a motorbike attacked a shop in a narrow street in the neighbourhood of Atlas in Helwan and then went to major streets attacking two churches.
Another eyewitness, 16-year-old Margret, told MEE that around 10:45am Cairo time, "there were masked men firing at the church and the shops around it. Three conscripts were injured in front of the church. And in the entrance a woman was injured. After shooting at the policemen, they turned and fired at the shops owned by the Christians."

Remon, a student attending Helwan University, said he saw the two militants attacking a shop that sells electronic devices.

"The two militants killed the two brothers in cold blood and fled the scene," he said.

Boshra, a 55-year-old employee in the ministry of agriculture, told MEE over the phone: "No one is safe here. They said in Sinai the terrorists are attacking Sinai because it is lacking security and we said OK, but in Helwan where there is a policeman following everything you do, it is bizarre.

"I bet you 60 percent of the people in Helwan will be afraid to go to the church in the feast."

The Islamic State group's affiliate in Egypt has killed dozens of Christians in church bombings and shootings over the past year and has threatened further attacks.

Egypt's Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the country's 93 million people, and are the largest religious minority in the region.

US President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Friday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and condemned the attack, the White House said in a statement.

Speaking to MEE on the eve of Christmas, former archbishop emeritus of Algiers Henri Teissier implored Middle Eastern Christians not to leave their historic homeland in the face of militant attacks.

"We hope that the current crises will not drive our Christian brethren out of their homes, out of the countries that are their native lands," he said.

"Christians were in the Middle East seven centuries before the Muslims. A Lebanese Christian is also a Lebanese citizen. The Copts are the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians."

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.