Bus full of Coptic Christians gunned down in Egypt
CHILDREN are among at least 28 people massacred in Egypt and dozens more injured after gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians.
The health ministry said the victims had been on their way to the St Samuel the Confessor monastery when they were surrounded by eight to 10 attackers wearing military uniforms and masks.
The Christians' bus was blocked by three vehicles before the militants opened fire, as it travelled through the Minya region towards Maghagha.
Television footage showed a bus raked with bullets and with its windows smashed, surrounded by bodies covered in black plastic sheets. Local reports said only three children survived.
In response to the attacks, the Egyptian military launched airstrikes against what it said were militant training facilities in Libya.
Muslim leaders including the Grand Mufti of Egypt and the grand imam of al-Azhar, Egypt's 1,000-year-old centre of Islamic learning, condemned the act of "brutal terrorism" and called on Egyptians to unite.
The Coptic church said it had received news of the killing of its "martyrs" with pain and sorrow.
There was no immediate claim for the attack, which followed Isis bombings that killed at least 46 people at churches in Tanta and Alexandria over Easter.
The terrorist group has targeted Christians and other religious minorities around the world and has called for fresh attacks to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Coptic Christians have been kidnapped and beheaded in Libya, while Sufi Muslims have been massacred in Pakistan, Yazidis subject to genocide in Iraq and Shia Muslims massacred across the Middle East.
Muslim leaders have united in opposition to the group's atrocities in Egypt, forcing Isis to issue a lengthy propaganda article seeking to justify the murder of women and children.
It said "belligerent" Christians in Egypt deserve no protection under its version of sharia law, adding: "With regards to those of the non-combatant women and children from among the belligerent Christians who are killed unintentionally, their blood is waste."
The Easter attacks caused President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who himself came to power in a military coup, to declare a new state of emergency.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in Egypt, making up around 10 per cent of the country's residents, but has suffered successive rounds of persecution by Islamists.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights recorded 77 sectarian attacks on Copts in Minya province alone between 2011 and 2016, as well as many more incidents of vandalism at churches and schools.
Pope Francis showed his support during a visit to Egypt last month, paying tribute to the victims of another church attack in Cairo in December.
Isis responded by vowing to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and western embassies as potential targets.
Isis operates an affiliate in central Egypt as well as on the Sinai Peninsula, where militants brought down a Russian passenger plane flying from Sharm el-Sheikh in 2015.
Additional reporting by agencies