Gunmen kill at least 28 Christians on road to monastery in Egypt

A general view shows forensics collecting evidence at the site of a bomb blast which struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, Egypt, last month. (AFP file photo)
Updated 27 May 2017
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Gunmen kill at least 28 Christians on road to monastery in Egypt

CAIRO: Masked militants riding in three SUVs opened fire Friday on a bus packed with Coptic Christians, including children, south of the Egyptian capital, killing at least 28 people and wounding 22, the Interior Ministry said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, the fourth to target Christians since December, but it bore the hallmarks of the Daesh group. The attack came on the eve of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Militants have for years been waging an insurgency mostly centered in the restive northern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, although a growing number of attacks have recently also taken place on the mainland.
The assault happened while the bus was traveling on a side road in the desert leading to the remote monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Maghagha, in Minya governorate, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) south of Cairo where Christians account for more than 35 percent of the population, the highest ratio in any province.
Security officials quoted witnesses as saying they saw between eight and 10 attackers dressed in military uniforms and wearing masks. The victims were en route from the nearby province of Beni Suef to visit the monastery.
Security and medical officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, said the death toll stood at 28 but feared it could rise. According to Copts United news portal, only three children survived the attack. It was not immediately known how many of the victims were children.
Arab TV stations showed images of a badly damaged bus along a roadside, many of its windows shattered and with numerous bullet holes. Footage of the bus’s interior showed blood stains on the seats and shattered glass.
Ambulances are seen parked around the bus and bodies are lying on the ground, covered with black plastic sheets. Another video purported to show about 10 bodies of mature men lying on the sand on the side of the road with pools of blood around them. Children hysterically screaming could be heard in the background.
The surge in attacks targeting Christians in Egypt has added to the challenges facing President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s government as it struggles to contain the insurgency while pushing ahead with an ambitious and politically sensitive reform program to revive the country’s ailing economy that already has sent the cost of food and services soaring.
There was no immediate word from the government on how it intends to stop similar attacks from taking place, but it is likely to heighten security around churches, monasteries, schools and annual pilgrimages to remote Christian sites across the country.
On Wednesday, Egypt blocked access to nearly two dozen websites it said were sympathetic to militants or spreading their ideology.
“The growing number of these terror attacks is not at all reassuring,” Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic church, told a local television station.
El-Sisi called for a meeting with top aides to discuss Friday’s attack. Last month, he declared a three-month state of emergency following twin suicide bombings that struck two churches north of Cairo on Palm Sunday. In December, a suicide bomber targeted a Cairo church. The attacks left at least 75 dead and scores wounded and were claimed by Daesh, which later vowed more attacks against Christians.
Late last month, Pope Francis visited Egypt, in part to show his support for Christians in this Muslim majority Arab nation following the December and April attacks.
During the trip, Francis paid tribute to the victims of the December bombing in Cairo’s St. Peter’s church, located in close proximity to Cairo’s St. Mark’s cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He visited the church, where he joined in prayers the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Christians, Pope Tawadros II, and leaders of other Christian churches in Egypt.
Following the pope’s visit, Daesh vowed to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and Western embassies, saying they are targets for the group’s followers.
Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, have long complained of discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at the hands of the country’s majority Muslim population. They account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s 93 million people. More recently, some Christians have complained that the government was not doing enough to protect them.
They rallied behind el-Sisi, a general-turned-president, when he in 2013 ousted his Islamist predecessor Muhammad Mursi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged, especially in the country’s south, the heartland of Egypt’s Christians.


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.