(CNSNews.com) – The death toll in the latest terrorist atrocity targeting Egyptian Christians rose to 30 on Monday, after a victim succumbed to his wounds three days after Islamist gunmen opened fire on a group of travelers whom they had identified as Christians.
The number of dead, who included children, makes it one of the deadliest single attacks against members of Egypt’s beleaguered Coptic minority in decades. More than 20 people were injured in the eve-of-Ramadan attack, according to the Interior Ministry.
Gunmen in three pick-up trucks opened fire at a bus and other vehicles carrying Christians heading for a monastery in Minya province south of Cairo. Unconfirmed reports said the gunmen were dressed in military-type uniforms and that male victims were asked their religion before being gunned down.
“The victims, amongst which were also children, were killed after having refused to renounce their Christian faith,” Pope Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday, describing the attack as “another act of ferocious violence” against Egyptian Christians.
He prayed that God would “welcome these courageous witnesses, these martyrs, in his peace and convert the hearts of the terrorists.”
Just last month, suicide bombers killed 29 people in a church in Tanta in northern Egypt on Palm Sunday and, hours later, another 18 people in a cathedral in Alexandria, about 50 miles away. A bombing in a Cairo church last December cost 30 lives.
Through its propaganda mouthpiece Amaq, ISIS claimed responsibility for the latest attack, as it has done for previous ones.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered airstrikes against terrorist targets in the eastern Libyan city of Derna which the Egyptian military said had been linked to the Minya attack.
“The air forces executed a focused airstrike against terrorist groups in Libya after confirming their role in the planning and execution of the terrorist attack that took place in Upper Egypt’s Minya,” it said in a statement.
Egypt’s foreign ministry in a weekend letter to the U.N. Security Council said the airstrikes in Libya were carried out in line with the U.N. Charter’s article dealing with the right to self-defense and Security Council resolutions on terrorism.
However a Derna-based al-Qaeda-affiliated group calling itself the Mujahideen Shura Council whose facilities were reportedly hit, issued a statement denying any involvement in the attack on the Copts. It called the airstrikes a diversion by Sisi to cover up his failure to address Egypt’s security crisis.
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood also decried the airstrikes against what it called “our brothers in Libya.”
“The criminal commander [Sisi] persists in his policy which sows hostility, propagates hatred and establishes a major sedition crisis in the midst of the Arab world that promises to destroy the remaining values of brotherhood and good neighborhood,” said the group’s media spokesman, Talaat Fahmi.
The Muslim Brotherhood also condemned the attack on the Christians, but blamed Sisi for that too, saying the government failed to provide security while devoting its resources to persecuting its Egyptian critics.
In a statement to the nation after the airstrikes on Friday night, Sisi said ISIS’ strategy in Egypt was to sew discord between Muslims and Christians
“We will not hesitate to target any training camps threatening our security,” he said. “We will strike any camps used to train forces to attack Egypt, whether they are inside or outside of Egypt.”
Sisi invoked the recent U.S.-Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh and said he trusted President Trump’s pledges to confront terrorism.
In a statement Friday reacting to the attack, Trump said, “Wherever innocent blood is spilled, a wound is inflicted upon humanity.”
“But this attack also steels our resolve to bring nations together for the righteous purpose of crushing the evil organizations of terror, and exposing their depraved, twisted, and thuggish ideology,” he said.
“America also makes clear to its friends, allies, and partners that the treasured and historic Christian communities of the Middle East must be defended and protected,” the president added. “The bloodletting of Christians must end, and all who aid their killers must be punished.”