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The road to Minya: Egypt's Christians under attack again

One of the attackers allegedly killed in a shootout at a desert hideout


On 2 Nov Islamist gunmen attacked three busses carrying Christian pilgrims returning from a visit to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor in the Egyptian province on Minya, which lies approximately 120 miles south of Cairo.[1] [2] Footage showing the those killed in the attack was posted on social media showing that the dead and injured were civilians.[3] [4] [5]

Immediately following the attack Sky News Arabia cited Egyptian security sources stating that at least five Christians had been injured when gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying pilgrims.[6] The number of casualties rose with both the Governor of Minya put the death toll at seven with thirteen people injured, but the Ministry of Interior (MOI) contradicted this account claiming that seven were killed and seven others injured.[7] [8]

The MOI’s statement which was reported on Egyptian State TV said that the attack happened after the victims used a branch road to get to the monastery (contradicting all other reports which said the attack took place as the pilgrims were leaving the monastery). This was due to the main road being closed due to security precautions as the area was considered dangerous as well as being a mobile phone black spot. It also said that the security forces were pursuing the attackers and warned the media not to report what was being posted on social media but instead to rely on official statements.[9]

This was the second time Egyptian Christians visiting the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor had been targeted by terrorists. The previous attack took place on 27 May 2017 at the same location.[10] 28 people were killed in the attack which ISIS claimed responsibility for.[11] [12]

This was the second time Egyptian Christians visiting the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor had been targeted by terrorists.

Immediately following this attack Christian news channel MeSat broadcast a phone call with the local parish spokesman who would only give his first name, Peter. He said that the three busses carrying pilgrims had departed from the monastery when two vehicles carrying armed men approached the busses. The armed men were masked and wearing camouflage combat fatigues, according to the spokesman they proceeded to kill all the men on board and ordered the women to hand over their mobile phones.[13] The spokesman put the initial death toll at between seven and ten.[14]

The Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who had been addressing the World Youth Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, made the attendees stand for a minute’s silence for the dead and then offered his condolences to the families of the dead and wished the injured a speedy recovery.[15] His Twitter account posted his condolences and he said that Egypt would not let up in its efforts in the fight against terrorism and tracking down the perpetrators.[16]

As with the last attack, ISIS released a statement claiming responsibility. The IS Egypt Media Office issued the statement saying the ISIS fighters attacked three busloads of Christians on their way to a church in Minya using light weaponry (meaning handguns and automatic rifles). It claimed that the fighters killed 13 Christians and injured 18 others, and that this attack was in revenge for the Egyptian state imprisoning female ISIS members who they referred to as their “chaste sisters”. The statement ended by threatening further attacks.

In response to the Minya attack the MOI issued a statement claiming that following the attack the security forces gathered information and using the latest (unspecified technology) followed the assailants’ tracks and located them to a hideout in the desert mountains in the West of Minya Province. The statement went on to say that as the security forces were securing the region and raiding the hideout the armed men opened fire on them and the forces then returned fire killing 19 suspects. The security forces seized a quantity of weapons, ammunition and ISIS “membership cards”.[17]

This statement is unconvincing for a number of reasons. All the photos of the dead bodies show blood coming from the suspects’ heads. None of them show bullet wounds on their bodies. This scenario would be highly unlikely in the event of terrorists and security forces exchanging fire as it would be impossible for the security forces to kill each and every suspect with a single headshot.

The ISIS flags discovered in the alleged hideout look like unconvincing computer printouts

Secondly, those who were present at the site of the attack stated that the gunmen were masked and wore camouflage fatigues.[18] [19] Yet the suspects killed by the Egyptian Security Forces were all wearing civilian clothes.[20] Nor was there any trace of combat fatigues at the alleged hideout that they were discovered in. And the ISIS flags discovered in the alleged hideout look like unconvincing computer printouts.[21]

These photographs and scenarios are identical to those used every time the MOI or Ministry of Defence had previously released statements claiming that security forces had tracked down and killed wanted terrorists, plus none of the dead show signs of bullet wounds on their bodies, only their heads.[22] [23] It’s most likely that all these current and past photographs are of suspects who have been summarily executed by the security forces, and made to look like terrorists shot dead in a shootout.

Meanwhile the perpetrators of the Minya attack and others before them are on the loose and Egypt’s Christians are not safe from terrorist attacks.

The Minya attack followed an uptick in ISIS attacks carried out outside the North Sinai towns of Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah,[24] [25] despite the Egyptian Military Spokesman recently stating that the army had destroyed ISIS’s infrastructure in the peninsula and had achieved the highest levels of successes against the terrorist organisation.[26] [27]

Despite the fact that the Egyptian Army regularly carries out large scale joint counter terrorism exercises with US and Russian special forces,[28] [29] what remains that it has been incapable of protecting Egypt’s Christians from Islamist terrorists. The darkside of the Arab Spring was that during the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in 2011 Egypt’s Christians have been a community under attack.[30] [31] [32]

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