Angry Copts mourn Egypt bus attack victims


Coptic Christians on Saturday (November 3rd) carry the coffins of victims killed in a Friday ISIS attack following a ceremony at Prince Tadros church in Egypt's Minya province. [Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP] 

Coptic Christians on Saturday (November 3rd) carry the coffins of victims killed in a Friday ISIS attack following a ceremony at Prince Tadros church in Egypt's Minya province. [Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP] 

As Egyptian Christians mourned relatives shot dead on a bus carrying pilgrims south of Cairo, the Interior Ministry on Sunday (November 4th) announced that 19 suspects linked to the attack had been killed in a shootout with police.

The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) claimed it was behind Friday's attack near the city of Minya, which killed seven Christians returning from a visit to the desert monastery of St. Samuel, via its propaganda agency, Amaq.

A security source said another seven people were wounded in the shootings.

Under heavy guard by masked security personnel on Saturday, hundreds of angry Copts gathered in and around Minya's Prince Tadros church for the funeral of six victims.

The seventh victim, an Anglican, was buried Friday evening in a nearby village.

After Saturday's prayers, the bodies were carried out in white coffins bearing wreaths of white flowers. They were buried in a nearby Coptic cemetery.

In the aftermath of the attack, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called Coptic Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences, and led a minute of silence at a youth forum.

"When an Egyptian falls in a terrorist attack, we suffer and all the people of Egypt suffer", he said, calling on Egyptians to battle against religious discrimination.

Fugitives tracked down

Those killed in the exchange of fire with police were part of the cell involved in Friday's attack in Minya province, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The 19 suspects were found "as part of a pursuit of terrorist elements involved in carrying out hostile operations in the country, including the last armed attack which targeted citizens returning from the St. Samuel monastery", it said.

Raids were undertaken in the mountainous western desert of Minya province to track down the "fugitive terrorist elements", the ministry said.

Several Egyptian TV stations broadcast images provided by the interior ministry, which showed the bodies of armed men strewn across desert sand.

The television images also displayed a tent alleged to have been used by the cell, and a black ISIS flag.

Fear of further attacks

Dozens of victims' family members had waited throughout Friday night outside Minya's main hospital to receive the bodies for burial.

An elderly woman wept for her dead son and wailed as she sat on the ground outside the hospital morgue.

"He was the best child... I will never see him again," she said.

Security forces remained on alert outside the hospital for fear of further attacks, while roads were blocked to the scene of the shooting.

A Coptic cleric, asking not to be named, said around 24 people had escaped the attack unharmed and spent the night at a nearby village church.

On Saturday, a burned-out four-wheel-drive truck, which witnesses said had been used by a group of militants, stood near the site of the attack.

Residents had attacked the vehicle and handed two militants to security forces.

Repeated targets of ISIS

Copts, a Christian minority that make up 10% of Egypt's 97 million people, have in recent years been repeatedly targeted by ISIS.

In May 2017, masked gunmen ordered Christians travelling to St. Samuel to get off their buses and recant their faith.

The group refused and were shot one by one, leaving 28 people dead in the ISIS-claimed attack.

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

Egypt's army launched a major offensive in February 2018 against ISIS in Sinai, which has killed more than 450 extremists, according to an army estimate.

Egypt aims to prevent further such attacks by improving readiness and counter-terror capabilities through training and exercises such as "Bright Star 2018", held in September in co-operation with the US and other partners.

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