Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1375, (4-10 January 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1375, (4-10 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Safer masses

Security is stepped up ahead of Coptic Christmas, reports Ahmed Morsy

#The funeral of the victims on Friday night in Cairo # Security forces at Mar Mina Church in Helwan following the attack # Investigators inspect the shooting scene
# # #

In the wake of Friday’s terrorist attack which left 10 dead at Mar Mina Church in Greater Cairo’s Helwan district Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim issued orders to raise the level of security around churches during New Year and Eastern Christmas celebrations.

“Security forces assigned to secure Mar Mina Church confronted a terrorist who was riding a motorcycle while trying to breach the security cordon outside the church,” the ministry said in a statement. Police succeeded in arresting him after he was injured. They seized an automatic weapon with 150 bullets and an explosive device primed to explode.

 “The circumstances suggest the terrorist intended to penetrate the security cordon by firing shots and then detonate the explosive device close to the church so as to cause the greatest number of casualties. The quick response of the security forces who exchanged fire with the assailant foiled his plan,” the statement said.

According to the Interior Ministry the assailant, Ibrahim Ismail Mustafa, 33, took part in multiple terrorist operations including the 2016 attack on a Helwan Police Department van and last week’s terrorist attack in Beni Sweif.

Hours after the Helwan church was targeted Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack via the Aamaq news site. 

Ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations on 7 January and the seventh anniversary of the 25 January Revolution “the Interior Ministry will not ease its crackdown on terrorist groups,” a security source said. He added that in coordination with the Armed Forces special teams have been deployed to search for explosives in crowded areas and stationary and mobile patrols, in addition to other security measures, to secure churches and other venues.

Al-Ahram Weekly has learned the Interior Ministry has deployed 230,000 personnel to guard churches, parks and vital installations. Metal detectors have been installed outside churches and cordons set up to prevent vehicles approaching or parking. Plain-clothed officers and counter-terrorism specialists will be on the streets near churches.

In addition to government efforts to secure churches, members of the public are lending a hand.

Ahmed Samir, who lives close to the Helwan church, said that the sound of gunfire and screams brought him to the scene where he found a man wearing a helmet and carrying a backbag shooting at a funeral parlour. The terrorist then headed towards the church gates where he shot the policeman on guard dead. A member of the public then picked up the dead policeman’s gun and began shooting at the assailant who managed to enter the courtyard of the church where he inflicted more casualties.

“At first I thought he was a policeman in civilian clothes as he was carrying a firearm. When he killed the policeman and shot at two women I realised he was a terrorist,” said Abdallah Ahmed, a resident of the neighbourhood.

“I was hiding behind a parked car throwing stones at the terrorist. Neighbours were also throwing things at him from their balconies. One missile hit him and he fell to the ground giving me the opportunity to run towards the dead policeman, pick up his firearm and begin to shoot at the terrorist,” Ahmed told the Weekly. 

A video shared on social media platforms shows the militant later walking towards a crossroads and exchanging fire with police who shoot him in the leg. Crowds then gather around and restrain him till he is arrested.

“The most positive aspect of the Helwan church attack was the public’s courageous response in dealing with the terrorist,” says Major General Fouad Allam, a member of the National Council for Counter-terrorism.

“Without any hesitation or fear they acted side by side with security forces.”

Allam warned the incident may have been an attempt to check the state of readiness of security forces during the holiday period.

“The fact the attack included just one or two militants suggests the operation never really intended to bomb the church but was rather an attempt to test levels of security,” he said.

Since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in 2013 Egypt has been fighting an Islamist insurgency led by the Islamic State’s branch in North Sinai — formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis — in which hundreds of soldiers and police have died. Though Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis is at the forefront of militant groups launching attacks against security targets other, smaller militant groups like Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawra have recently emerged, claiming responsibility for attacks.

Terrorists have expanded their operations outside the peninsula, targeting Coptic churches in Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta where dozens of Christians have been killed in attacks on churches during the last year.

Last week the Interior Ministry announced it had killed five men suspected of planning to attack Coptic churches during a raid in Qalioubeya governorate. A day before the Helwan attack a roadside bomb planted by terrorists killed six soldiers, including a senior army officer, outside the town of Bir Al-Abd in northern Sinai.

On 24 November terrorists killed 311 worshippers at Al-Rawda Mosque, close to Bir Al-Abd, during Friday prayers.

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