A wedding celebration turned deadly in Cairo on Sunday night, as masked gunmen opened fire on Coptic Christians leaving the Church of the Virgin Mary in the Giza suburb. The attackers killed four people and wounded at least 18.
The assault was the latest in a wave of attacks against Christians in Egypt since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that began in August. Muslim Brotherhood supporters blame Christians for Morsi’s downfall.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) identified the four dead victims: an 8-year-old girl, a 12-year-old girl, a 45-year-old man, and a 56-year-old woman. The dead woman was the groom’s mother.
CSW reported three wedding services were taking place at the church when a pair of gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire with an automatic weapon on family and guests leaving the church.
One eyewitness told the BBC: “We heard a very loud sound as if something was collapsing. I found a woman seated in a chair with lots of bullet wounds, covered in blood. … Many other people had fallen around her, including a child.”
Coptic activists say Egyptian police haven’t provided adequate protection for the Christian community since Muslim Brotherhood supporters attacked Christian homes, businesses, and churches in August. Islamists destroyed at least 40 churches—Coptic, evangelical, and Catholic—during a weeklong rampage after deadly clashes between the Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo on Aug. 14.
After the Sunday attack on the Church of the Virgin Mary, a priest told local Egyptian media that the church had been left without a police guard since the end of June.
Earlier on Sunday in Cairo, hundreds of Morsi supporters clashed with Egyptian police during riots at the Al-Azhar University. The Morsi supporters—including many students at the school—hurled stones at the administration building, smashing windows and breaking doors. When protesters spilled into the streets of Cairo and cut off a main road, Egyptian police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrations.
Though police have managed to subdue rioters, militants wage an ongoing battle: Officials at the Interior Ministry—the agency overseeing Egyptian police—say they find explosives planted on bridges and major roads in Cairo nearly everyday. In September, the interior minister survived an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber. And in early October, militants in Cairo attacked the nation’s largest satellite ground station with rocket-propelled grenades.
By Monday morning, the country’s interim prime minister said police would investigate the “cowardly, criminal act” at the Church of the Virgin Mary. Meanwhile, Coptic Christians gathered near the church’s bullet-marked walls to pray for their injured and mourn their dead.