Twenty-six people have been killed in Egypt after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, according to state-run media.
The passengers were traveling Friday to a monastery, St. Samuel the Confessor, near the central city of Minya when they came under attack, Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Mugahed told TV al-Masriya.
He said that 25 others were also injured as the gunmen fired from two cars on a desert road around 100 km (62 miles) west of Minya. Fifty ambulances are now at the scene.
There were men, women and children among the dead and injured, Mugahed said, some of whom are now in critical condition.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the shooting.
Coptic Christians have faced persecution and discrimination in Egypt, which has spiked since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. Dozens have been killed in sectarian violence.
Coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 91 million. They base their theology on the teachings of the apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt.
Aleteia’s John Burger adds:
The New York Times reported that a Christian official in Minya said the attackers opened fire on a pickup truck carrying workmen and a bus carrying worshipers as they traveled in convoy to the monastery.
“We are having a very hard time reaching the monastery because it is in the desert. It’s very confusing. But we know that children were killed,” said the official, Ibram Samir.
Last month, Pope Francis visited Egypt in the wake of recent attacks on Copts and addressed the violence:
“Religiosity means nothing unless it is inspired by deep faith and charity,” Francis said.
“True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane,” he said.
“God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity! Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him.”
The Pope started his Mass with the “As-Salaam Alaikum,” the traditional Muslim greeting in Arabic that means “Peace be upon you,” and ended it with “al-Masih qam! Bi-l-haqiqa qam! (Christ is risen! He is truly risen)”.
UPDATE: The New York Times has additional details—including the rise in the death toll. Details:
Dressed in military fatigues, the gunmen waved down the bus filled with Christian pilgrims as it wended its way down a dusty side-road in the desert of western Egypt, headed toward a monastery.
Claiming to be security officers, the gunmen ordered the passengers to get out. They separated the men from the women and children, and instructed them to surrender their mobile phones. They told the men to recite the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.
When the men refused, the gunmen opened fire.
At least 28 people were killed, several with a single shot to the head, according to the Egyptian authorities and relatives of the victims, several of whom were children. The attack on Friday in Minya Province, 120 miles south of Cairo, was a coldblooded escalation of sectarian violence targeting minority Christians that has left more than 100 people dead since December and shaken the country’s government.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility in the latest assault. Yet it bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State, which in the past six months has dispatched suicide bombers into crowded Sunday services and caused an entire community in northern Sinai to flee their homes in panic.
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them…
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