The Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Egypt’s western desert. In May 2017, gunmen wearing military fatigues opened fire on three buses that were traveling toward the same monastery. Credit EPA, via Shutterstock
CAIRO — Islamist gunmen killed at least seven Coptic Christian pilgrims in Egypt on Friday and wounded at least 16 in an attack later claimed by the Islamic State.
The attack — an ambush on two buses — ended a nearly yearlong lull in major attacks on Copts in Egypt, and may signal a resumption of the Islamic State’s campaign to sow sectarian divisions in Egyptian society.
It was also a setback for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has put security concerns at the heart of his autocratic style of rule and has repeatedly vowed to protect Christians, a minority in the country, from attack.
The shooting occurred as two buses carrying pilgrims left the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor, 85 miles south of Cairo, in Egypt’s Western Desert.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility on its Amaq news service.
A video circulating on Facebook from the site of the attack showed a man slumped over the steering wheel of a bus. Two other bloodied, inert figures lay on the back seats. A door of the vehicle, apparently ripped from its hinges and covered in blood, lay on the ground.
The Interior Ministry said the attackers appeared to have used a secondary road to approach the bus in the vicinity of the remote desert monastery south of Cairo.
Ambulances carrying three people seriously injured in the attack pulled into Cairo’s Sheikh Zayed Specialized Hospital on Friday evening. Nader Adel, a volunteer who accompanied a wounded teenage boy to the hospital, said the boy described the ambush to him.
By that account, masked gunmen riding a pair of small, off-road vehicles stopped the buses as they left the monastery. The gunmen stepped up and opened fire. One of the buses managed to speed away, but the other, in which the seven people were killed, did not. People were injured on both buses.
The same desert road was the site of an almost identical attack in May 2017. In that incident, gunmen wearing military fatigues opened fire on three buses that were traveling in a convoy toward the monastery of Saint Samuel. At least 28 people were killed.
Follow Declan Walsh on Twitter: @declanwalsh.