By Arab News
By Malek Awny
Ten people were killed and five others were injured on Friday morning in an armed clash after security forces attempted to thwart a terrorist attack targeting a church in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan, according to Egypt’s Health Ministry.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that security forces shot and wounded a terrorist who was riding a motorcycle and shooting randomly in an attempt to storm the Mar Mina Church in Helwan. Security forces found an automatic gun, 150 bullets and a bomb on the wounded terrorist, according to the ministry statement.
Before the church shootout, the terrorist opened fire on nearby commercial stores, killing two citizens.
The ministry said that the terrorist’s name is Ibrahim Ismail Mustafa, and he has taken part in other terrorist attacks. A ministry official said the terrorist’s identity had some of the fingerprints of Daesh.
The Egyptian national TV said that a terrorist was killed and another was arrested, while the Interior Ministry said the attack was executed by one terrorist only.
An official source at the Saudi Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attack. The source offered deep condolences to the families of the victims and the people and government of Egypt, wishing the wounded a speedy recovery. The source renewed the Kingdom’s support of Egypt against such attacks.
Denouncing the attack, King Abdullah of Jordan stressed Amman’s solidarity with Cairo and its support against terrorism. He also expressed his deepest condolences to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the families of the victims.
Yousef Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), highlighted the preparedness of the Egyptian security forces, noting that the supporters of the terrorist attack have been trying to execute a desperate plan targeting the security of Egypt. He renewed the position of the OIC in condemning terrorism and extremism in all its forms and manifestations.
Daesh had threatened more than once this year to target Egyptian Christians and their churches. The last threat came when Wafa Media Foundation, a propaganda body affiliated to the network of Daesh, incited the militants to kill Egypt’s Christians and bomb their churches.
Daesh claimed responsibility for three massive attacks on Egyptian churches through the past year; the first one was on St. Peter’s Church in Cairo in December 2016, and the second and third attacks were on two churches in Alexandria and Tanta in April.
El-Sisi said the terrorist attacks would make Egyptians more determined to continue cleansing the country of terrorism and extremism.
El-Sisi extended “his condolences to the families of the victims of the despicable terrorist attack.” He instructed the relevant bodies to provide the necessary care for the victims’ families, and ordered tightened security at vital sites.
Mai Mogib, who teaches political science at the University of Cairo, said that it was possible to identify two political objectives behind the escalation of terrorist attacks and threats against Egyptian Christians during the past year.
“The first one is to create sectarian tension that will drain the state’s institutions, weaken security efforts and people’s trust in any security successes that might be announced in other fronts like Sinai and Western Desert,” he said.
“The second one is to erode the popularity of the president among Christians; an important support base, especially when the presidential elections will be held in June,” he said.
The attack has been expected by Egyptian security bodies since the Interior Ministry on Dec. 17 raised the security alert to the maximum level during the Christmas holidays.
Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar stressed the importance of intensifying security measures at Christian sites and constantly monitoring the perimeters of all churches.
Abdel-Ghaffar told the ministry’s officials that it was “necessary to continue taking pro-active measures and thwart the terrorist attacks,” warning that “the decisive security confrontations with terrorists in Sinai might push these terrorists to escape and sneak into cities.”
In June, the weekly newspaper Al-Naba, published by the media center of Daesh, claimed that the terror group had another branch in Egyptian districts, known as “the Caliphate’s Soldiers in Egypt,” along with Daesh’s more active first branch, “Sinai Province.”
Meanwhile, the Egyptian armed forces announced they would continue their joint efforts with the Interior Ministry to boost security during the holiday season.
A spokesperson for the Egyptian armed forces said that the citizens’ protection units affiliated to the armed forces were working intensively alongside the police in streets and religious places.
He said that the armed forces were backed by additional specialized and technical forces ready for an immediate action in the event of any emergency on New Year’s Eve.