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In Egypt, Gunmen Open Fire On Coptic Christians


In Egypt this morning, gunmen opened fire on a group of Coptic Christians who were traveling to a local monastery. Egypt's health minister says 28 people have been killed and 25 others injured. Those numbers could rise. NPR's Jane Arraf is in Cairo now. Jane, what more do we know about this attack?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, according to the provincial governor, the governor of Minya, there were two buses and a truck that were full of Coptic Christians. And they were headed for a monastery, St. Samuel, when they were stopped on the road by gunmen wearing masks who opened fire. And that explains the death toll. It's probably almost certain to rise. But these would have been Christians who were leading some of the villages on this Friday holiday, the first day of the weekend and the day of rest here, to actually go to churches and to monasteries to pray because they don't have churches in their villages.

MARTIN: Has anyone claimed responsibility yet?

ARRAF: No one has yet. But if you take a look at the way they did this - the fact that it was organized, that they appear to have been wearing masks and they opened fire with weapons capable of killing that many people - it does have signs of ISIS or an Islamic State-affiliated group. And they have claimed responsibility for attacks like this in the past.

MARTIN: So you have spent time recently in Minya province reporting on attacks on Christians there. What did you find?

ARRAF: Well, it's a little bit tense in some places. So Christians in Egypt feel increasingly under threat both from ISIS, which has pledged after the bombings of churches here at Easter to continue to attack Christians, but also more worryingly in the minds of many of them in their own towns and villages. I went into one town that was a flashpoint of violence where people's houses, Christian houses, had been burned down when they gathered to pray and talked to some of the townspeople there about why there was this violence erupting with neighbors they have lived with for generations.

And a lot of people said they don't mind Christians. They don't have a problem with them. But they mind churches. They are not willing to accept churches in their communities. So it is a little bit tense. The government's trying to handle it. But it really is very difficult in Minya province, where there's a large percentage of Christians.

MARTIN: So the overarching sentiment there is you can practice whatever faith you want; just do it in your own home.

ARRAF: And don't have too many people in one house because we might think you're trying to start a church and burn it down, which is actually what has happened in some places. It's something that the church obviously is very worried about. Christians - and they are Coptic Christians - and this is one of the early centers of Christianity. The monastery they were going to was a 5th-century monastery. And they feel very strongly about their faith and very strongly that they will not leave places like Minya province, even with the attacks.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf reporting from Cairo. Thanks so much this morning, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
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