Masked gunmen have opened fire on a wedding party leaving a Coptic Christian church in Egypt, killing four people – among them an eight-year-old girl.
Interim prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi described the shooting, carried out by two men on motorcycles who fled the scene afterwards, as a “callous and criminal act”.
Coptic Christian guests were leaving the Virgin Mary church in Cairo’s Waraa district last night when the attack took place, with a woman also among the four killed and another 17 people wounded.
Christians make up around 10 per cent of Egypt’s population, and have increasingly become a target for attacks and persecution following the 3 July coup which ousted the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Sunday’s was one of the most deadly attacks in recent weeks, but Mr Beblawi said it would “not succeed in sowing divisions between the nation’s Muslims and Christians”. He added a pledge that police would find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
A leading Muslim cleric also condemned the attack. Sheick Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of the Sunni Islamic learning centre of Al-Azhar, said: “It is a criminal act that runs contrary to both religion and morals.”
Father Dawoud, a priest at the Virgin Mary church, described the incident as symptomatic of the wider violence currently plaguing the country. “What is happening is that all of Egypt is being targeted, not just the Christians. Enough! People are getting sick and tired of this.”
It is the latest in a series of high profile attacks in Cairo that have been blamed on Islamic militant groups. In September the interior minister survived an assassination attempt, while earlier this month rocket propelled grenades were fired on the country’s largest telecommunications station.
National Defence Council held a meeting late last night to discuss new measures to combat the growing civil unrest and deteriorating military situation in the Sinai region.
It issued a statement which read: “The state will take measures and precautions that will drain the sources of terrorism and deter any attempt to breach the law.”
Islamic extremists reportedly link the mass protests which saw president Morsi ousted to Christians, particularly after their spiritual leader Pope Tawadros II publicly backed the resulting coup.
Meanwhile a Christian activists association has blamed Mr Beblawi’s military-backed government for Sunday night's attack, saying it has failed to protect churches since a large number were burned down south of the capital in August.
A Coptic youth group, known as The Association of Maspero Youth, also criticised the interior minister Mohammed Ibrahim, calling for him to resign after he allegedly “sponsored” an April attack on the papal seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo.
The group said: “If the Egyptian government does not care about the security and rights of Christians, then we must ask why we are paying taxes and why we are not arming ourselves if the police are not protecting us.”