Egypt says 19 Copt attack suspects killed by police
CAIRO - Nineteen suspected jihadists linked to a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in central Egypt have been killed in a shootout with police, the interior ministry said Sunday.
Those killed in the exchange of fire were part of a cell that left dead seven pilgrims in Friday's attack in Minya province, a statement by the ministry said.
"The terrorist elements opened fire on the (security) forces who responded," the statement said.
The 19 suspected jihadists were found "as part of a pursuit of terrorist elements involved in carrying out hostile operations in the country, including the last armed attack which targeted citizens returning from the Saint Samuel monastery", the ministry said.
The Islamic State group claimed Friday's attack -- which killed six Copts and one Anglican -- in a message via its propaganda agency Amaq.
Raids were undertaken in the mountainous western desert of Minya province to track down the "fugitive terrorist elements", the interior ministry said.
Several Egyptian TV stations broadcast images provided by the interior ministry, which showed the bodies of armed men strewn across desert sand.
The television images also displayed a tent alleged to have been used by the suspected jihadist cell, and a black IS flag.
Pope Francis on Sunday spoke of his pain over the attack.
"I express my pain after the terrorist attack which two days ago hit the Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt," Francis said at Saint Peter's in the Vatican City.
"I pray for the victims, pilgrims killed just because they were Christian," he added.
Copts, a Christian minority that make up 10 percent of Egypt's 97 million people, have in recent years been repeatedly targeted by IS jihadists.
In May 2017, masked gunmen ordered Christians travelling to Saint Samuel to get off their buses and recant their faith.
The group refused and were shot one by one, leaving 28 people dead in that IS-claimed attack.
IS also killed more than 40 people in twin church bombings in April 2017, and an IS gunman last December killed nine people in an attack on a church in a south Cairo suburb.
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for citizens to battle against religious discrimination.
"When an Egyptian falls in a terrorist attack, we suffer and all the people of Egypt suffer", Sisi said in an address to a youth forum in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Copts have long complained of discrimination in Egypt and IS is not the only group to have launched sectarian attacks against the community.
In December 2017, hundreds of Muslims attacked a church south of Cairo that had been operating without a permit for more than a dozen years.