Terrorists who used machine guns, opened fire last Friday on vehicles carrying Egyptian Coptic Christians to Al-Anba Samuel monastery south of Cairo, killing 29 (mostly children) and injuring 24 others. There were between 10 to 12 masked gunmen dressed in military uniforms driving three 4x4 wheelers. The attack took place in Upper Egypt’s Minya governorate, home to a sizeable Christian minority. The bloodshed came on the eve of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement on Telegram, the terrorist group said that the successful mission had targeted tens of Christians and killed 31 of them.
The Egyptian Government's Response
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi called for an emergency security meeting to follow up on the attacks. In a statement from the presidency, El-Sisi also instructed authorities to take all necessary measures to attend to the injured and arrest the assailants.
A cordon was imposed around the site of the attack. The Interior Ministry’s Special Forces shut down entry points and exits to Minya to prevent militants from escaping. Egypt’s Prosecutor General has also ordered an immediate probe after the deadly attack.
Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb condemned the attack while on a visit to Berlin, saying, "Such attacks can never satisfy a Muslim or a Christian."
The Egyptian Airstrike in Libya
On May 26, 2017, the Egyptian Air Force had carried out a strike against terrorist camps in Darna, eastern Libya. Hours after Friday's attack, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi announced that Egypt had launched airstrikes against militant training bases in Libya.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said that a strike was being launched targeting a camp that had been a source of terrorists who had carried out attacks in Egypt, without specifying the location.
The Egyptian armed forces released a short video that was shown on state television after El-Sisi's speech. The voiceover said that upon the directions of the president, the air force had carried out a strike against terrorist gatherings in Libya "after confirming their involvement in planning and committing the terrorist attack in Minya governorate on Friday."
The Egyptian Air Force strikes targeted and “completely destroyed” the main center of the Shura Council of Mujahideen of Derna, an Al-Qaeda affiliated coalition of Islamist militias advocating the implementation of Sharia law in Libya. The Egyptian Air Force destroyed all the planned terrorist targets with the day and night strikes, the military said in a statement.
The strike was mentioned by the president in a speech on May 26, shortly after the terror attack said that Cairo would not “hesitate” to strike “terrorism” anywhere whether it is inside or outside his.
“Egypt will not hesitate at all to strike terrorist camps anywhere,” El-Sisi said during the TV address, adding that Cairo does not “conspire” against any country, and is keen to protect its national security.
El-Sisi did not specify any country. However, he said since the fall of the Libyan regime in 2011, Egypt was watching its borders carefully. “I say again, any camps being currently used to train terrorists, Egypt will strike,” he said. “This message is clear.”
The Egyptian president said the country’s forces had destroyed 300 vehicles being used by “terrorist” elements in the past three months only near the western Libya border. He further warned “what happened today, will not pass like that” without punishment.
The Responses of the International Community
Arab and Western countries have denounced the attack, expressing their solidarity with Egypt against terrorism. The UN Security Council, Arab League, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Kuwait and the UK have all condemned the attack.
US President Donald Trump has expressed his sadness and support for Egypt and President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi following the terrorist attack on Christians. "America stands with President el-Sisi and all the Egyptian people today, and always, as we fight to defeat this common enemy," an official statement said. "This merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt tears at our hearts and grieves our souls," the statement reads, adding that this attack also "steels our resolve" to bring nations together for the righteous purpose of crushing the evil organizations of terror.
The Terror Campaign against Copts in Egypt
On April 9, 2017, two suicide bombers targeted St. George's Church in Tanta and St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, killing and injuring dozens in the deadliest attack against civilians in the country's recent history. 29 people died in the Tanta explosion and 18 in Alexandria.
Cairo imposed a nationwide three-month state of emergency after the April bombings, with the option to extend for another three months dependent on a parliament vote.
Pope Francis visited Egypt in May 2017, in part to show his support for the Christians of this Muslim-majority Arab nation who have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants. During the trip, Francis paid tribute to the victims of the December bombing at Cairo’s St. Peter’s church, which is located in close proximity to the St. Mark's Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Following the pope’s visit, ISIS affiliate in Egypt vowed to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and Western embassies as they are targets of their group’s militants.
The terror attack in Minya is the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt's Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population and has repeatedly been targeted by armed groups.
There are several reasons for the escalation of attacks against the Copts in Egypt. Firstly, Jihadists and Islamists accuse the Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the group that claimed responsibility for the two attacks is a barbaric movement that aims to distort the face of Islam and to spread chaos and bloodbaths in all of Egypt. "These two terrorist attacks, in addition to the one that hit the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo last December, are part of a grand conspiracy that aims to destabilize Egypt and disrupt its strong national unity," said Abdel-Aal.
Militants have suffered consecutive security hits in recent months. In March 2017, the founder of IS-affiliated group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, Salem Salma El-Hamdeen, also known as Abu Anas El-Ansari, was killed by Egypt's armed forces in an airstrike. The military also announced recently that it had taken full control of the Mount Halal area, which was considered one of the key centers of terrorist activity in Sinai. The IS group could be trying to retaliate and compensate for its latest losses in Sinai, targeting the Copt minority.
The IS group in Iraq and Syria suffered heavy losses and tries to present achievements in other places including Egypt. The attacks on the Copt churches can be a message to show how the group is expanding in Egypt with different targets from Cairo to Sinai and Alexandria to Tanta.
Insurgent attacks in Egypt have intensified since a 2013 military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party. Attacks against security forces have become common in recent years but are largely concentrated in Sinai, where Egypt's army and police are battling an entrenched Islamist insurgency.
The Islamic insurgency in Egypt is far from being over, and the Egyptian government is unlikely to end its crackdown on the Brotherhood, IS and other Islamist groups, anytime soon.
The Christian world failed to protect the Christian minorities in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Libya). In Egypt, the regime is ready to make all the efforts to protect the local Christian population. Despite ongoing political and human rights problems in Egypt, the United States and other countries should support Egypt's counter-terrorism campaign and Egypt’s internal counter-terrorism struggle should be seen as part of the regional and global effort against the threat posed by Islamic terror.