CAIRO – It is said that the man from the Islamic State opened the fire on a bus that returned Friday from a remote Coptic Christian monastery in Upper Egypt. At least seven people were killed and 14 wounded.
"Terrorists opened fire on a bus carrying people," said Coptic Christian Archbishop Makarious from Minya, a city located about 150 miles south of Cairo. The pilgrims, said the community leaders, returned from a visit to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in a remote area of the Egyptian West Desert.
On Friday night, the Egyptian subsidiary of the Islamic State, which had pledged to attack the Coptic Christians of the nation's minority, took responsibility for the attack by its Amaq intelligence service. It was the first attack the militant group claimed this year outside of northern Sinai, where it fights Egyptian security forces.
The violence on Friday comes more than a year after a similar attack on Christian pilgrims traveling to the same monastery. In May 2017, armed men attacked buses with worshipers, killing at least 28 people. Since December 2017, the last major attack on Christians, the Coptic community has taken a relatively short break. Many fear that the attack on Friday could signal the launch of yet another lethal campaign by the Islamic State against Christians.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi on Friday attempted to dispel the concerns of a community that has supported him resolutely, even though they have been attacked by Islamist extremists in the past two years. Egyptian officials and analysts view the Islamic State's goal of targeting Christians as an attempt to expand beyond its traditional areas of use in northern Sinai and to foster religious divisions among the Egyptians.
"I deeply grieve for the martyrs killed today by treacherous hands to undermine the nation's solid structures, and wish the injured a speedy recovery," Sissi said in a statement. "I reaffirm our determination to continue our efforts to combat the dark terrorism and to take the culprits."
The death toll on Friday could have been much higher. There were several vehicles carrying Christian pilgrims, but the militants had targeted two buses, said Bishop Aghathon Tala'at, a Christian community leader. A bus escaped as his driver drove to another road. But the second bus, which carried at least 20 passengers, was stopped by fighters traveling in two SUVs, Tala & # 39; at said in a telephone interview.
"A number of masked men got out of them, took the cell phones of the passengers, and then shot all the men," said Tala'at, the bishop of Maghagha, a nearby town with a hospital where many of the injured were wounded were treated. "They wore military uniforms, told me the survivors."
Images of the bus, which were distributed on social media, showed a bloody scene, including a wounded child. Execution-style executions reflect this attack in May 2017, in which armed gunmen killed some victims with individual shots.
Since 2016, suicide bombers of the Islamic State in Egypt target churches in Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta, killing numerous hits. Last month, an Egyptian military court was sentenced to death. 17 people were convicted in these attacks. The defendants were charged with belonging to the Islamic State and organizing attacks on the Christian community, which makes up about 10 percent of the population.
The attacks of the Islamic state prompted Sissi's government to carry out a major military operation this year in the troubled Egyptian province of Sinai, the stronghold of the militants. A wave of Islamist militancy has permeated the country since the military overthrew former President Mohamed Morsi and the followers of the Muslim Brotherhood party have been severely attacked.
The Islamic State has also targeted Sufi Muslims, which the group considers a heretic. In November 2017, militants attacked a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai and slaughtered more than 300 followers. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt's modern history.
After every attack on the Christian community, the Egyptian security forces strengthen security in churches and other holy places throughout the country. But the violence on Friday was for many an indication that such measures did not work.
After the attack, Tala & # 39; at, some people angrily took to the streets, blocking a road and demanding better security for their community. The remote area of the western desert, where militant groups have long been targeting Egyptian security forces, has poor mobile phone coverage and unpaved, often unlit streets.
"There has to be a security solution," said Tala & # 39; at. "The road is not well paved, there is not enough lightning and no mobile network. That's why it's purposeful. "