At least seven people were killed and nearly 20 injured on Friday in a militant attack on two buses and one microbus carrying Coptic Christians back from the St. Samuel Coptic Orthodox Monastery in Upper Egypt’s Minya Governorate, according to a statement released by the official spokesperson for the Coptic Orthodox Church on Facebook.
Assailants opened fire on one bus near the St. Samuel Monastery, according to the statement, resulting in a number of injuries among passengers — a family visiting from the Kawamel Bahari village in the neighboring Sohag Governorate for the baptism of one of the family’s children. A second bus and another microbus traveling from Minya were also attacked in the same area, killing at least seven people and injuring several more.
Two of those injured were transferred to the Sheikh Zayed Hospital, while the others were transferred to the Awda, Maghagha and Samalout hospitals in Minya.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released on Friday evening by its media arm, the Amaq News Agency. In a second statement attributed to the militant group, in which a higher death toll of 13 is cited, the group purports that the motive for the attack is to avenge the imprisonment of “our chaste sisters.”
Daoud al-Samouili, a monk who guards the monastery’s gate, tells Mada Masr that Friday’s attack occurred on an unpaved road leading to the monastery, close to the location of the May 2017 militant attack on buses transporting Christians to the same monastery, which killed 28 people.
Although attack happened at around 2 pm, security forces only arrived some two hours later, he adds.
Samouili criticizes the fact that there were no helicopters ready and available to canvass the area and locate the assailants, allowing them to flee “just as the perpetrators of last year’s attack escaped.” He also criticizes security services’ protection of the road leading to the monastery, describing it as “sterile and just for show.” The monk points out that security is only present at the entrance of the road, so the gunmen were able to use four-wheel drive vehicles to access the road directly from the mountains, bypassing the entrance.
The victims’ bodies will remain at the site of the incident until the prosecution arrives, he reports. Ambulances needed to transport casualties were also delayed because there are no ambulance stations or hospitals nearby, he tells Mada Masr, adding that the conditions of hospitals nearby are poor. He believes the death toll will continue to rise.
After the attack, a number of angry residents, whom Samouili describes as “sympathizers of the monastery,” gathered at the head of the road leading to the monastery, where security forces tried to convince them to leave.
Since the 2017 attack, there have been very few trips to the monastery, and those who do come leave before 6 pm, according to the monk.
A security source, speaking to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, alleges that the main road leading to the monastery is closed, as per security instructions, given its remote desert location and the lack of access to communication networks. “The victims used side roads to reach the monastery,” he says, adding that “perpetrators of the attack are being pursued.”
The attack comes just one day before the opening of the World Youth Forum in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort, which is expected to be attended by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who responded to the attacks on his official Twitter and Facebook accounts.
“It is with great sadness that I offer my condolences to those killed today by treacherous hands seeking to undermine the fabric of our nation,” the president wrote on Friday. “I wish the injured a speedy recovery and reiterate our determination to continue fighting the evil of terrorism and pursue the perpetrators of this attack. This incident will not undermine the will of our nation to continue the battle for survival and development.”
Public Prosecutor Nabil Sadek also issued a statement on Friday, saying that he had appointed one team from the North Minya Prosecutor’s Office and another five-member team from the Supreme State Security Prosecution to visit the scene and conduct an investigation into the incident, and take necessary action depending on their findings.
There has been no official comment on the incident by the Coptic Orthodox Church other than Friday’s statement.
During a visit to the United States in September, Pope Tawadros II, the head of the church, responded to a question about the security situation in Egypt, saying, “Whoever wants to visit Egypt is welcome, the security situation has completely changed in the past five years.”
In May 2017, a convoy of several buses was attacked on the same route leading to the monastery, killing 28 Copts and injuring more than 20 others , according to Health Ministry statements from the time.
At the time, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The Egyptian Air Force then launched several air strikes against the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna in Libya. President Sisi claimed that the assailants of the attack came from these bases.
In recent years, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for three operations targeting Copts, including last year’s attack in Minya. In April 2017, the group claimed responsibility for the twin Palm Sunday bombings that targeted the St. George Church in Tanta and St. Mark’s Church in Alexandria during celebrations for the Coptic Holy Week, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries. In December 2016, the organization targeted the St. Paul and St. Peter Church in Cairo, adjacent to the Cathedral of St. Mark in Abasseya, killing 25 and injuring dozens more.