The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a massacre that was carried out yesterday in Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt. Masked gunman opened fire on a bus filled with Coptic Christians who were traveling to the St. Samuel Coptic Orthodox Monastery. At least 28 people were killed.
The Islamic State’s arms in the Sinai and mainland Egypt have repeatedly attacked Coptic Christians. The group has also targeted Copts in neighboring Libya. In early 2015, the so-called caliphate’s men released a video documenting the beheadings of 21 Copts on Libya’s shores.
The jihadists have stepped up their operations targeting Copts in more recent months. It is an explicit part of their strategy to terrorize and polarize the Egyptian population. However, in early May, the unnamed leader of the Islamic State’s branch in the heart of Egypt conceded in an interview published in Rumiyah (“Rome”) magazine that the attacks are widely unpopular. He also admitted that the overwhelming majority of Egyptian Muslims do not approve of the Islamic State’s ideology.
Still, the organization presses forward, openly marketing its atrocities against Copts.
On Apr. 18, jihadists opened fire at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery, a UNESCO-designated world heritage site in the southern Sinai. At least one policeman was killed, but the Islamic State loyalists were forced to flee after they failed to do more damage.
The hit-and-run ambush near the monastery came just over one week after the organization’s Egyptian arm bombed two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday (Apr. 9). More than 40 people were killed and dozens more wounded in the twin bombings. The first bomb was detonated at Saint George’s Church in Tanta and the second at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. Pope Tawadros II, who heads the Coptic Orthodox Church, was reportedly in attendance at Saint Mark’s either shortly before or after the jihadists struck.
The Islamic State’s men bombed another Coptic church in Cairo on Dec. 11, 2016, killing at least 25 people.
On June 30, 2016, Amaq reported that Islamic State “fighters” had “assassinate[d] the priest of the Saint George church in the city of Arish due to him waging war against Islam.” Arish is a city in the Sinai. The Coptic Orthodox Church confirmed that the priest was shot dead as he was making his way home after performing mass.
While the jihadists have deliberately targeted Copts in the Sinai, most of their operations are focused on Egyptian security forces.
In retaliation for the attack in Minya, the Egyptian government has bombed training camps in eastern Libya. Some of the camps are reportedly located in Derna, a city in eastern Libya. The Islamic State was forced out of Derna in early 2016, after rival jihadists ejected them. It is possible that the caliphate’s men returned to the area after retreating from their stronghold in Sirte late last year. But other al Qaeda-linked groups operate in the city as well.
For more on the Islamic State’s attacks on Coptic Christians, see FDD’s Long War Journal reports:
Feb. 15, 2015: 21 Egyptian Christians executed in Islamic State video