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Egyptian explosives expert killed defusing bomb at Cairo church

Egypt has increased security at churches ahead of New Year's Eve and Coptic Christmas on 7 January
Egyptian forces guard Cathedral of Nativity in Egypt's New Administrative Capital near Cairo (AFP)

An Egyptian police officer was killed on Saturday while attempting to defuse an explosive device found at a church in an eastern Cairo suburb, state television reported, less than two days prior to Coptic Christmas celebrated by Egypt's Christians.

Two policemen and an onlooker were also hurt when the device exploded, security sources told Reuters. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the incident.

Egyptian security forces have stepped up their presence outside churches and other places of worship ahead of New Year's Eve and Coptic Christmas, which is celebrated on 7 January.

The Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have long complained of discrimination. They have also frequently been attacked by the Islamic State (IS) group, which sees them as infidels, prompting authorities to place armed guards outside churches and monasteries.

A Christmas mass will be celebrated on Sunday at the Cathedral of Nativity in Egypt's New Administrative Capital, where President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi plans to attend mass and inaugurate the cathedral, AFP said. 

More than 100 Copts have been killed in militant attacks since December 2016.

On 12 December, in the town of Minya south of Cairo, two Coptic men were shot dead by a police officer who was guarding a church.

IS killed more than 40 people in twin church bombings in April 2017, and an IS gunman in December that year killed nine people in an attack on a church in a south Cairo suburb.

The country has been under a state of emergency since April 2017.

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