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Islamic militancy

Islamic State claims responsibility for massacring Coptic Christians as Egypt continues cross-border strikes on camps in Libya

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said he had ordered strikes against what he called terrorist camps, declaring in a televised address that states that ­sponsored terrorism would be punished

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 May, 2017, 8:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 May, 2017, 11:23pm

Islamic State on Saturday claimed responsibility for shooting dead 29 Christians on a bus in central Egypt, an attack that prompted retaliatory air strikes on jihadists in neighbouring Libya.

The shooting in the province of Minya on Friday, as the Coptic Christians were travelling on a bus to a monastery, was the latest in a series of attacks by IS that have killed more than 100 Copts since December.

“A security detachment from the Islamic State carried out an attack yesterday in Minya,” the group’s self styled Amaq news agency reported.

Egyptian fighter jets yesterday continued their air strikes on camps in Libya, which Cairo claimed had been training the militants who carried out the attack.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said he had ordered strikes against what he called terrorist camps, declaring in a televised address that states that ­sponsored terrorism would be punished.

Egyptian military sources said six strikes took place near Derna in eastern Libya, hours after masked gunmen attacked the Coptic Christians travelling to a monastery.

“The terrorist incident that took place today will not pass unnoticed,” Sisi said. “We are currently targeting the camps where the ­terrorists are trained.”

He said Egypt would not hesitate to carry out further strikes against camps that trained people to carry out operations against Egypt, whether those camps were inside or outside the country. Egyptian military footage of pilots being briefed and war planes taking off was shown on state television.

East Libyan forces said they participated in the air strikes, which had targeted forces linked to al-Qaeda at a number of sites, and would be followed by a ground operation. A resident in Derna heard four powerful explosions, and said the strikes hit camps used by fighters belonging to the Majlis al-Shura militant group.

The terrorist incident that took place today will not pass unnoticed. We are currently targeting the camps where the ­terrorists are trained
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi

Majlis al-Shura spokesman Mohamed al-Mansouri said in a video posted online that the Egyptian air strikes did not hit any of the group’s camps, but instead hit civilian areas.

At a village near Minya, thousands attended a ­funeral service that turned into an angry protest against the authorities’ failure to protect Christians.

“We will avenge them or die like them,” mourners said, while marching with a giant wooden cross.

Witnesses said masked men opened fire after stopping the Christians, who were in a bus and other vehicles on a desert road. ­Local TV channels showed a bus apparently covered in bullet holes and smeared with blood.

Clothes and shoes could be seen lying in and around the bus, while the bodies of some of the ­victims lay in the sand nearby, covered with black sheets.

According to witnesses, three vehicles were attacked. First hit was a vehicle taking children to the monastery as part of a church outing. The gunmen boarded the vehicles and shot all the men and took all the women’s gold jewellery. They then shot women and children in the legs.

When one of the gunmen’s vehicles got a flat tyre they stopped a truck carrying Christian workers, shot them, and took the truck. One of the gunmen recorded the attack on the Copts using a video camera, some witnesses said.

US President Donald Trump said his country stood with Sisi and the Egyptian people: “This merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt tears at our hearts and grieves our souls.”

Pope Francis, who visited Cairo a month ago, described the attack as a “senseless act of hatred”.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse