(JNS) At least nine people, including eight Christians, were killed Friday in a terror attack on a Coptic Christian church and market in Egypt, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.
According to reports, terrorists opened fire on a shop in the Helwan area, south of Cairo, and killed two people before heading to a church, where they fatally shot seven people. Egypt’s Interior Ministry said the attackers—armed with a machine gun, ammunition and a bomb that they intended to detonate in the church—attempted to drive through security forces outside the church, Ahram Online reported. Security forces shot dead one of the assailants in an exchange of fire outside the church, while the other terrorist was captured.
“Once the gunfire was heard, the gates were closed immediately,” Raouth Atta, who was inside the church during the attack, told The Associated Press. “People were terrified and wanted to check on their families in other buildings of the church. We stayed inside for 30 minutes before we were able to get out.”
The attack comes as Egyptian Christians are preparing to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is marked on Jan. 7. Egypt’s embattled Christian minority, which comprises roughly 10 percent of the country’s population, has been the frequent target of Islamic terrorism in the country in recent years. Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta were struck by suicide bombers earlier this year, killing 44 people on Palm Sunday. More than 100 Christians have been killed by terror attacks in Egypt during the past year.
Earlier this week, the Egyptian military said that it is mobilizing forces to help provide security for the upcoming Orthodox Christmas holiday.
The U.S. Embassy in Egypt issued a statement Friday saying it “strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack on a church.”
“We offer condolences to the families of the victims and wishes for speedy recovery for those wounded. The U.S stands steadfastly with the people of Egypt in the face of such cowardly attacks,” the embassy stated.