CAIRO — Egyptian security forces on Tuesday killed seven suspected militants in a shootout in Cairo, the Interior Ministry said, amid tight security as the country’s Coptic Christians start the Holy Week leading up to Easter next week.
A police officer was also killed during the hours-long firefight which erupted when security forces raided a suspected militant hideout at a residential building in Cairo’s Amiriyah district, the ministry said. Three police agents, including an officer, were wounded.
The ministry, which oversees police, said the forces seized weapons and ammunition in the raid.
It said the suspects were planning attacks on the country’s Coptic Christians during the Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, one the world’s oldest Christian communities, would celebrate Easter on April 19.
Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of the country’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, mourned the death of Lt. Col. Mohammed el-Houfi.
The country’s chief prospector ordered an investigation into the incident.
Private television stations aired what they said was footage of the firefight with gunshots heard in the background.
Christians, who constitute around 10 percent of Egypt’s more than 100 million predominantly Muslim people, have long complained of discrimination and that the government does not do enough to protect them. Security at churches is routinely increased around religious holidays.
Three years ago, suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror. Since then Egypt has been under a state of emergency.
Tuesday’s firefight came as Egypt has been struggling to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 160 cases of coronavirus, the country’s highest one-day tally since the first case was confirmed in February. The ministry also reported 14 fatalities. The latest figures took the tally to 2,360 infected and 178 deaths.
The government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi imposed a partial lockdown that include suspending classes, the closure of worship places, archaeological sites, coffee shops, clubs. It also includes a nighttime curfew.
Egypt has been for years battling Islamic militants centered in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, but the insurgency gained strength after the 2013 overthrow of elected but divisive Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The militants have mainly targeted security forces and Christians.
In 2018, Egypt launched a major security operation against militants, mainly in the Northern Sinai but also elsewhere in the country.