At least 28 Coptic Christians have been killed and dozens more wounded by armed men who attacked them while they were travelling to a monastery in Egypt’s Minya province.
The Christians were headed on Friday to the Saint Samuel Monastery, located outside Minya city, about 220km south of the capital Cairo, when the masked attackers, who came in three pickup trucks, opened fire of them before fleeing the scene.
Egyptian security and medical officials told the Associated Press news agency that of the 28 dead, many were children.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Photos of a bus at the scene aired by state TV showed its windows shot out.
“They used automatic weapons,” Essam el-Bedawi, Minya’s governor, told state media.
Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.
Following the attack, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for a meeting with security officials.
Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the country’s population, has repeatedly been targeted by armed groups.
In April, at least 45 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in two separate suicide bomb attacks on churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria during Palm Sunday ceremonies.
The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Following the Palm Sunday bombings, Sisi declared a nationwide three-month state of emergency.
A bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49 in December 2016, including many women and children.
In an interview with Al Jazeera from Cairo, Timothy Kaldas, of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said Friday’s attack was in all probability carried out by ISIL, also known as ISIS.
He noted that ISIL had declared in February the launch of a campaign against Egypt’s Christian population.
“It is very possible that this is part of that campaign,” Kaldas said, adding that ISIL has a “great deal of sectarianism in their ideology, and have targeted people based on their faith.”
He said ISIL is also “trying to undermine the credibility of the government” in Egypt.