Gunmen attacked a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt on Friday, killing 28 people and wounding 24, with many children among the victims, Health Ministry officials said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan. It followed a series of church bombings claimed by Islamic State in a campaign of violence against the Copts.
Eyewitnesses said masked men opened fire after stopping the Christians, who were in a bus and other vehicles. Local TV channels showed a bus apparently raked by gunfire and smeared with blood. Clothes and shoes could be seen lying in and around the bus.
The attack, which Egypt’s Muslim leaders condemned, happened 15 km (10 miles) from the monastery, a security official on the scene told Reuters. Ambulance workers, monks and Muslim clerics were also present but declined to speak.
Police armed with assault rifles formed a security perimeter and officials from the public prosecutor’s office were gathering evidence and fingerprints. Heavily armed special forces arrived later wearing face masks and body armor.
The injured were taken to local hospitals and some were being transported to Cairo. One of the vehicles attacked was taking men to carry out maintenance work at the monastery while another was carrying children, officials said.
The Health Ministry said that among those injured were two children aged two.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called a meeting of security officials, the state news agency said, and the cabinet said the attackers would not succeed in dividing the nation.
The grand imam of al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning, said the attack was intended to destabilize the country.
“I call on Egyptians to unite in the face of this brutal terrorism,” Ahmed al-Tayeb said from Germany, where he was on a visit. The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, condemned the perpetrators as traitors.
The Coptic church said it had received news of the killing of its “martyrs” with pain and sorrow.
The attack took place on a road leading to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority. An Interior Ministry spokesman said the unidentified gunmen had arrived in three four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.