Islamist gunmen attacked security forces near St Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt’s south Sinai yesterday, killing at least one police officer and injuring four others outside one of the world’s most important and oldest Christian sites.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a police checkpoint about 800 metres from the entrance to the monastery, which comes just 10 days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt.
The incident follows two deadly suicide bombings on Coptic Christian churches last week, which were also claimed by Islamic State and which plunged the country into mourning and marked one of the bloodiest days for the country’s Christian minority in decades.
St Catherine’s, founded in the 6th century and located at the foot of Mount Sinai, is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up about 10 per cent of the country’s 92 million people, has increasingly been targeted by Islamist militants, with three deadly church attacks in the span of four months.
In February, scores of Christian families and students fled North Sinai province after a spate of targeted killings.
A successful assault on St Catherine’s would be the latest challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has pledged to protect the religious minority as part of his campaign against extremism.
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