Egypt Strikes Militant Bases After Coptic Christians Killed In Ambush

From USA-Today:
Egyptian fighter jets struck militant bases in eastern Libya late Friday in retaliation for an attack by masked gunmen on a caravan of Coptic Christians that left 28 people dead.

In a televised address, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said his forces were hitting what he called "training bases" for the militants who carried out the killings.

Senior officials said the warplanes targeted the headquarters of the Shura Council in the city of Darna, where local militias are known to be linked to al-Qaeda, not the Islamic State .

The Egyptian leader also appealed to President Trump, saying, "I trust you, your word and your ability to make fighting global terror your primary task.”

At the G-7 summit in Italy, Trump condemned the attack on the Christian pilgrims, blaming "evil organizations of terror" and "thuggish ideology."

"The merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt tears at our hearts and grieves our souls," he said in a statement.

In the caravan attack, masked gunmen driving SUVs opened fire on the Coptic Christian pilgrims heading to a monastery about 130 miles south of the Egyptian capital. According to the local governor and Egyptian security and health officials, the gunmen killed 28 people, and injured at least 23.

The attack came one month after Pope Francis visited Egypt in part to show his support for Christians living in the Muslim majority Arab nation who have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants.

Although no group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attack, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed — following the pope's visit — to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and western embassies the militants planned to target.

While the official death toll, according to Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Mugahed, remained at 26, governor Essam El-Bedewy, of the Minya governorate where the attack occurred, told ONTV Live that 28 people were killed and 23 injured.

The higher death toll was also confirmed by Egyptian security and medical officials, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Mugahed said the gunmen, riding in three SUVs, ambushed a minibus and two cars of pilgrims heading along a desert road to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in the Minya governorate.

The ministry said there were between eight and 10 attackers dressed in military uniforms, according to witnesses. The statement said the assailants were "randomly shooting" on the caravan of pilgrims, according to AhramOnline.

Arab TV stations showed images of a bus riddled with bullet holes, with many of its windows shattered and bloodstains on the seats. Bodies lay on the ground, covered with black plastic sheets. Children could be heard screaming hysterically in the background.

The victims ranged in age from children to over 60, the bishop of Minya told the privately owned TV Channel DMC. The dead included two girls, ages 2 and 4, according to local officials.

"We are in pain over the violence and evil,” Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church said in a statement, adding that it was suffering "with the whole nation over the violence and evil that targets the heart of Egypt and our national unity,” AhramOnline reported.

The MENA news agency reported dozens of roadblocks were thrown up along the highway to track down the gunmen. Minya is located in Upper Egypt on the left bank of the Nile River.

El-Sisi called a meeting of his security council as the government vowed to track down the killers. The prime minister headed to the scene of the attack.

Egypt has been fighting Islamic State-linked militants who have waged an insurgency, mainly focused in the volatile north of the Sinai Peninsula, but there have also been attacks on the mainland.

The armed assault, which took place on the eve of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Egypt’s Christians following a pair of suicide bombings on Palm Sunday.

On April 9, the bombers attacked St. George's Cathedral in Tanta, killing 29 people, and St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, killing 18.

During the pope's visit to Egypt in late April, Francis paid tribute to the victims of the December bombing at Cairo’s St. Peter’s church, which is located in close proximity to the St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, have repeatedly complained of suffering discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at hands of the country’s majority Muslim population.

Over the past decades, they have been the immediate targets of Islamic extremists. They rallied behind el-Sissi, the general-turned-president, in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged, especially in the country’s south.

The militant Islamic group Hamas that rules Gaza condemned Friday's attack, the Associated Press reported. Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the shooting “an ugly crime,” of which “the enemies of Egypt” are the only beneficiaries. The Palestinian militant group has been seeking to improve relations with neighboring Egypt.

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