Cairo: Nine people were killed on Friday in an attack outside a church in the Egyptian capital, the Health Ministry said. However, the Interior Ministry said that the nine were killed in two attacks targeting the church and a store in the same area.
The dead included eight civilians and one policeman, Khalid Mujahid, the spokesman for the Health Ministry, told state television.
One of the attackers was killed in an ensuing exchange of fire outside the Mar Mina Church in the working-class district of Helwan in South Cairo, according to the official.
The Interior Ministry added in a statement that the attack on the church had been carried out by a lone gunman on a motorcycle.
The assailant opened fire at police guards outside the church, killing six civilians and one policeman, the ministry said.
The attacker was injured in an exchange of fire with police before he could throw a bomb at the church with the aim of “causing the highest possible casualties”.
Before the attack on the church, the assailant shot at a store in Helwan, killing two people, the ministry said without details. The Coptic Orthodox Church said the shop is owned by a Christian man.
The Interior Ministry described the attacker as “an active terrorist” who was involved in previous fatal attacks.
Earlier reports said the attack outside the church had been carried out by two gunmen and that one of them was killed on the site.
The attack took place early Friday when a Mass service was under way inside the church, according to local eyewitnesses.
“I was awakened from sleep by the sound of heavy gunfire,” an eyewitness, named Sarah, told private newspaper Al Masry Al Youm. “After a while, I looked out of my apartment window and saw people shot dead lying on the ground outside the church,” added the woman living opposite the church.
“I saw also a girl hysterically crying as she was running towards a woman who had been shot. She was her mother.”
The attack comes before Egypt’s Coptic Christians celebrate the Christmas on January 7.
Egyptian authorities have this week tightened security around churches across the country ahead of the New Year celebrations.
In April, 48 people were killed in suicide bombings against two Coptic churches in Egypt.
Egypt declared a state of emergency nationwide following the two attacks that was claimed by Daesh.
A month later, gunmen opened fire at a bus carrying Coptic worshippers on way to a monastery in the southern province of Al Minya, killing 28 people.
Christians account for about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population of nearly 95 million.