Egypt says Christian massacre attackers trained in Libya
Cairo // Egypt said on Saturday attackers who massacred Christians near a monastery had trained in militant camps in Libya which it targeted with air strikes.
The air force loyal to Egypt-backed Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar said it had joined the Egyptian air strikes on Friday following the attack on Copts that killed 29 people.
But the only confirmed strikes appear to have hit a pro-Al Qaeda group in the Libyan city of Derna that has fought against ISIL.
ISIL said on Saturday that its fighters had ambushed the Christians as they were travelling to the Saint Samuel monastery in Egypt’s southern province of Minya.
The shooting was the latest in a series of attacks by ISIL that have killed more than 100 Copts since December, further devastating the community.
In the small town of Bani Mazar, not far from the scene of the attack, grieving Christian women in black veils could not hold back their tears at a ceremony to mourn the dead in Saint Mark’s Cathedral.
The masked gunmen first ordered the Christians travelling to the monastery to get down from the buses they were in — and then to recant their faith.
The mix of faithful visiting the sanctuary along with monastery workers refused and one by one, the gunmen, who had lain in wait for the convoy to appear, shot them dead.
While police had boosted security around churches in the country, no one was prepared for a strike on a desert road.
The extremists appeared to be in no hurry as they perpetrated the massacre, according to a priest and a relative of one survivor.
“They told the men to disembark from the bus, took their identity cards and the gold they had on them, and asked them to the recite the Muslim profession of faith,” said Maher Tawfik, whose niece survived.
“They took gold jewellery and money from the women, as the children hid under the seats,” he said.
The victims, many of them found were sprawled dead in the sand, appeared to have been forced to kneel before being shot in the head, Coptic priest Hedra Rashid said.
“They asked them one by one to deny their Christian faith, but they all refused,” said Mr Hedra, who spoke to survivors.
Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry told the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson that the extremists who attacked the Christian convoy had trained in Libyan militant camps.
“There was enough information and evidence of the terrorist elements involved in the [attack] having trained in these camps”, he said.
A spokesman for the Al Qaeda-supporting Majlis Mujahedeen Derna, which controls the city in eastern Libya, said the Egyptian air force carried out eight raids on the city without causing casualties.
A Libyan air force statement said: “The operation was a success and the losses of the Al Qaeda terrorists were heavy in casualties and equipment.”
Majlis Mujahedeen Derna ousted ISIL from Derna in 2015 and also fights against Field Marshal Haftar’s forces.
Egypt has repeatedly expressed concern over militants crossing from Libya to Egypt to conduct attacks.
In a speech on Friday, Abdel Fattah El Sisi said setbacks to ISIL in Syria were driving its fighters to try to relocate to Libya and Egypt’s Sinai.
In past attacks, Egypt had usually identified local extremists as the perpetrators.
Friday’s attack followed two suicide bombings of churches in April that killed 45 Copts. In December, a suicide bomber struck a church in Cairo, killing 29 Copts.
ISIL said it had carried out all the bombings and threatened more attacks on the Copts, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population of 90 million.
It has also killed several Christians in North Sinai, forcing dozens of families to flee.
The latest attack drew global condemnation.
“Terrorists are engaged in a war against civilisation, and it is up to all who value life to confront and defeat this evil,” US President Donald Trump said.
Pope Francis, who visited Egypt in April, sent a message to Mr El Sisi saying he was “deeply saddened to learn of the barbaric attack”.
Updated: May 27, 2017 04:00 AM