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Egypt Hits Militant Bases in Libya After Attack on Copts

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Coptic Christians react after a funeral service for some of the victims of a bus attack, at Abu Garnous Cathedral in Minya, Egypt, May 26, 2017.

Egypt answered a bloody machine-gun attack that killed dozens of Coptic Christians Friday with airstrikes on "terror bases" in Libya where the militant Islamist gunmen were believed to have trained.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi announced the retaliatory action in a televised address hours after masked gunmen attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christians across the desert to a monastery. Egyptian officials said at least 28 people died at the hands of the gunmen.

“An extremely painful strike has been dealt to the bases,” el-Sissi said, referring to the targets in Libya.

“Egypt will never hesitate to strike terror bases anywhere,” he added. Military officials said camps targeted in Libya had been firmly linked to the men involved in the bus attack, who were widely suspected to be sympathizers of the Islamic State group.

Authorities said up to 10 assailants in three pickup trucks attacked about 320 kilometers (200 miles) from Cairo, training machine-gun fire on a bus carrying pilgrims to a remote monastery in Minya state honoring St. Samuel the Confessor, a 7th-century priest. In addition to the 28 people killed, 25 others were wounded.

This image released by the Minya governorate media office shows bodies of victims killed when gunmen stormed a bus in Minya, Egypt, May 26, 2017.
This image released by the Minya governorate media office shows bodies of victims killed when gunmen stormed a bus in Minya, Egypt, May 26, 2017.

No claim of responsibility

“They used automatic weapons," state governor Essam el-Bedawi said. Egyptian television viewers saw images of the bus, its windows shattered, surrounded by police and ambulances.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, although it bore the hallmarks of Egypt's Islamic State affiliate, which has carried out four attacks on Copts since December. The worst came on April 10, Palm Sunday in the Coptic church calendar, when bombs exploded at two churches, killing 44 worshipers and wounding more than 100.

Egypt's Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. They have long been a target of Islamist extremism, as well as discrimination by the country's Muslim-majority population.

This image released by the Minya governorate media office shows a policeman and a priest next to a bus after militants stormed the bus in Minya, Egypt, May 26, 2017.
This image released by the Minya governorate media office shows a policeman and a priest next to a bus after militants stormed the bus in Minya, Egypt, May 26, 2017.

Trump reacts to 'merciless slaughter'

World leaders quickly condemned Friday's attack.

“This merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt tears at our hearts and grieves our souls," according to a statement from President Donald Trump released at the White House in Washington. “… But this attack also steels our resolve to bring nations together for the righteous purpose of crushing the evil organizations of terror, and exposing their depraved, twisted and thuggish ideology.”

UN Security Council condemns attack

The United Nations Security Council condemned “in the strongest terms” what it called a “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack.”

Security Council members said “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.”

A statement called on authorities to bring to justice everyone involved in the attack — organizers, perpetrators, financiers and sponsors.

“Any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation,” the Security Council said.

Pope deeply saddened

From the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was deeply saddened to learn of “the barbaric attack in central Egypt and of the tragic loss of life and injury caused by this senseless act of hatred.”

The pontiff visited Egypt last month, refusing to postpone his travel despite security concerns arising from the series of attacks carried out against Copts since December.

Francis instead visited one of the bombed churches to denounce violence carried out in the name of God.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story erroneously indicated Pope Francis is the leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians. Pope Tawadros II is the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. VOA regrets the error.

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