Gunmen Attack Coptic Christians in Cairo Church and Shop, Killing 9

Nine people were killed in two terror attacks by gunmen on Coptic Christians Friday in the Egyptian capital Cairo, officials have said. 

BBC News initially reported that 10 or 12 people were killed as gunmen on a motorcycle tried to storm a church south of Cairo, opening fire, with at least one of the attackers killed by security forces.

The dead terrorist was found with an explosives belt, suggesting that the assailants could have been planning to carry out a bombing and kill even more people.

A Coptic-owned shop in the same area was attacked an hour later, which left two other people dead.

Mostafa, an auto-rickshaw driver who was near the Marmina church, said that he witnessed the attack.

"Dozens of people ran to the church entrance to see the source of the shooting. I saw the terrorist lying on the floor bleeding as policemen surrounded him. He had a beard and had a big [armor] belt around him," the man said, according to The Guardian.

The Coptic Orthodox church added in a statement: "A terrorist attack has targeted the Church of the Martyr Marmina as unknown assailants fired gunshots, killing a person from the security force guarding the church as well as five of the people of the church, in addition to other injured individuals."

Egypt's health ministry said that at least five other people were wounded, including two women who are in serious condition.

Security forces have put up checkpoints around Cairo in response to the attacks.

Officials are searching for those behind the assault, though the Islamic State terror group has claimed responsibility for a number of similar attacks in Egypt this year, which has led to the deaths of over 100 believers.

Just last week, Egyptian authorities promised that as many as 230,000 security forces would be deployed to guard Christmas celebrations around the country, given the number of church and mosque bombings in recent times.

Omar Ashour, a visiting professor of security studies at the Doha Institute, told Al Jazeera that there is an "ongoing crisis" in the North African country.

"It's more continuity than change, we still need more details to come up, but so far Egypt has witnessed over 2,000 attacks in the last three years," Ashour said.

"There are two issues, one is the political crisis in Egypt which unfolded after 2013. That has not been resolved, and it's creating more and more recruitment and radicalization to armed groups of various forms," he added.

"There is also basically a series of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism blunders which the Egyptian forces have been committing, and that is adding more and more oil to the fire."

Beside the upcoming new year's eve celebrations, Coptic Christians are also preparing to observe Christmas, which on the Julian calendar that many Orthodox believers follow falls Jan. 7.

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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