‘Sadness and pain’ as Egypt’s Copts bury bus attack victims

Coptic Christians in Egypt have buried the victims of an attack on buses carrying visitors to a monastery in a northeastern province.

Seven people were killed on Friday and at least 18 others wounded when attackers opened fire on the vehicles near the Monastery of St. Samuel in Minya, which was the target of a similar attack in 2017.

On Saturday, hundreds gathered at the Prince Tadros church in Minya, a city some 260km south of the capital, Cairo, to bury six members of the same family who were shot dead in the attack. Among them were a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.

The seventh victim, an Anglican bus driver, was buried on Friday evening in a village outside Minya.

“There is a mix of sadness and pain,” Bishop Anba Makarios, head of Minya’s Coptic diocese, told mourners on Saturday, tears streaming down his face.

“Sadness as these painful events are being repeated, and pain because Copts are part of this homeland and part of its fabric”.

The Copts are an Orthodox denomination who make up about 10 percent of Egypt‘s more than 90 million people. They are the Middle East’s largest Christian community and have long complained of persecution and insufficient protection. 

After prayers, the bodies were carried out of the heavily-guarded ceremony in white coffins bearing wreaths of white flowers.

Family members reportedly waited outside Minya’s main hospital where victims were being treated on Friday night to receive the bodies for burial. 

There was also a heavy security presence outside the facility, while roads close to the scene of the shooting remained blocked.

Some have accused officials of not doing enough to protect the minority group [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

String of attacks

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant  (also known as ISIS or ISIL) armed group quickly claimed responsibility for Friday’s deadly attack, which is the latest in a string assaults against the minority community. 

In December 2017, a gunman killed 11 people at a church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo. More than 100 Copts have been killed in such attacks since 2011, according to The Associated Press news agency.

“We will not forget the promises of officials, including the president of the republic, that the criminals will be punished,” Makarios told mourners, who booed when he thanked security officials.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Friday he mourned the victims as martyrs and vowed to push ahead with a major army and police crackdown launched in February to target armed groups.

Sisi also reportedly called the Coptic Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences and led a minute’s silence at a youth forum. 

The government pledged 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($5,600) in compensation to the families of the dead, as well as a monthly stipend of 1,500 pounds ($84).

Fifty-thousand pounds ($2,800) will be given to those among the wounded who require extended medical treatment, the state news agency said MENA said.

Some Christians in Minya said Saturday’s attack proves not enough is being done to protect Egypt’s Christians. 

It is the second attack around the same monastery in as many years and, despite the main road only being open to pilgrims, the attackers were able to use secondary dirt roads to intercept the buses, Egypt’s interior ministry said.

The ministry said police were pursuing the attackers, who fled the scene.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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