Egyptian police kill 7 extremists in Cairo shootout

Suspects said to have been planning attacks on Coptic Christians.
Wednesday 15/04/2020
A file picture of Egyptian police in Ramses Square in Cairo. (REUTERS)
A file picture of Egyptian police in Ramses Square in Cairo. (REUTERS)

CAIRO--Egyptian security forces on Tuesday killed seven suspected extremists in a shootout in Cairo, the Interior Ministry said, amid tight security as the country’s Coptic Christians start the Holy Week leading up to Easter next week.

A police officer was also killed during the hours-long firefight which erupted when security forces raided a suspected extremist hideout at a residential building in Cairo’s Amiriyah district, the ministry said. Three police agents, including an officer, were wounded.

The ministry said the forces seized weapons and ammunition in the raid.

It said the suspects were planning attacks on the country’s Coptic Christians during the Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, one the world’s oldest Christian communities, would celebrate Easter on April 19.

The ministry said it had received information “that there is a terrorist cell, whose elements embrace Takfiri ideology, using several areas as a shelter in eastern and southern Cairo as a starting point to carry out terrorist operations,” the statement said.

Egypt uses the term “takfiri” to refer to Islamist extremists who accuse their victims of being “infidels”.

Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of the country’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, mourned the death of Lt. Col. Mohammed el-Houfi.

The country’s chief prosecutor ordered an investigation into the incident.

Private television stations aired footage of the firefight with gunshots heard in the background.

Christians constitute around 10 percent of Egypt’s more than 100 million predominantly Muslim population. Security at churches is routinely increased around religious holidays.

Three years ago, suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror. Since then Egypt has been under a state of emergency.

Egypt has been for years battling Islamic extremists centred in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, but the insurgency gained strength after the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi. Authorities have accused members of the Muslim Brotherhood of having been involved in extremist violence and consider the Brotherhood to be a terrorist organisation.

Jihadist groups in Egypt have mainly targeted security forces, officials and Christians. But the last major attack was in November 2017 when militants killed more than 300 people in an attack on a Sufi mosque in north Sinai, the deadliest such incident in the Arab world’s most populous country.

(With news agencies).