Christians Killed Outside Church in Latest Religious Attack in Muslim Egypt

Egypt's Coptic Christians gather to mourn their dead after a terror attack in May. Getty Images

Updated | At least 12 people died during multiple attacks on Coptic Christian communities in Egypt on Friday, according to local officials. Gunmen on motorcycles stopped in front of a church south of Cairo and killed several people before police successfully intercepted the attack. At least one policeman was among the dead.

A video of the attack spread across social media showed an unidentified gunman lying on the ground after the shooting. It was originally unclear if the gunmen had any affiliation with a terrorist group, but they reportedly had a bomb, an explosive belt and other ammunition on them, suggesting that a more elaborate attack had been planned.

Hours later, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency. In an Arabic message translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups, the Amaq agency said a "security detachment belonging to the Islamic State carried out an attack" on the church south of Cairo.

ISIS has, however, previously claimed responsibility for attacks without evidence its followers carried them out.

Two Coptic Christians were killed during a separate attack on a store in the same area. A statement on the Facebook page of the Egyptian Coptic Church said it was a terror attack and listed the names of the victims.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is an Oriental Orthodox Christian Church based in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa. The Coptic Orthodox Church split from the rest of the Christian community in 451 A.D., before the great schism between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians in 1054.

The split by the Coptic Church was spurred by differing views on the nature of Christ, since Coptic Christians believe that Christ had two natures: one human and one divine. Coptic Christians believe that Saint Mark brought Christianity to Egypt and founded the Coptic Church in the first century A.D., making it the first Christian Church founded in Africa.

Coptic Christians are the largest Christian minority in the Middle East and comprise about 10 percent of Egypt's largely Muslim population. They have frequently complained of discrimination and violence in Egypt. In a separate incident last week, Muslim demonstrators stormed a Coptic church south of Cairo, shouting anti-Christian slogans. No one was killed during the demonstration, but at least three people were injured.

Devastating: A terrorist attack against a #Coptic Church in Southern #Cairo, 15 people massacred after gunmen opened fire on #Copts leaving the church after the Mass. Sad. Pray for Egypt and its people. #Helwan #Egypt

— Ibrahim (@al2ostaz) December 29, 2017

There were at least seven terror attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt over the past two years, and at least 100 Christians were killed in 2017, mostly during attacks by the local affiliates of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Coptic Christians are not the only religious minority targeted by the Islamic State. Just one month ago, militants targeted a Sufi Muslim mosque in one of the deadliest attacks in Egypt's recent history. The attack killed 305 people in a town with a population of just 800.

ISIS affiliates are located primarily on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

This story was updated to reflect that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.