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41 killed in Cairo as fire engulfs Copt church during Sunday mass, officials say

Another 14 injured in blaze; prosecutor’s office opens investigation and sends a team to establish cause

Illustrative: A Coptic Christian man mourns victims killed in an attack a day earlier, during an early morning ceremony at the Prince Tadros church in Egypt's southern Minya province, on November 3, 2018. (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)
Illustrative: A Coptic Christian man mourns victims killed in an attack a day earlier, during an early morning ceremony at the Prince Tadros church in Egypt's southern Minya province, on November 3, 2018. (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)

CAIRO — More than 40 people were killed in a blaze that broke out during a Sunday mass in a Coptic Christian church in a suburb of Egypt’s capital Cairo, church officials said.

The blaze started for unknown reasons at the Abu Sifine church in the capital’s northwestern, working-class district of Imbaba.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared on his Facebook page: “I have mobilized all state services to ensure that all measures are taken.”

Fire services later said the blaze had been brought under control.

The Egyptian Coptic Church reported “41 dead and 14 injured” citing “sources in the Ministry of Health,” in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

The prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation and sent a team to the scene to establish the cause of the blaze.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted his condolences following the incident.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Egypt following the fire incident at Abu Sifin Church in Giza,” he wrote. “I wish to express my condolences to the families of victims, and a speedy recovery to the injured. The State of Israel stands with you in this difficult time.”

Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million people.

The minority has suffered attacks and complained of discrimination in the majority Muslim north African country, the Arab world’s most populous.

Copts have suffered deadly attacks at the hands of Islamists, particularly after Sisi overthrew former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, with churches, schools and homes burnt down.

Copts feel they have been left out of key state positions and deplored restrictive legislation for the construction of churches compared to that of mosques.

Sissi, the first Egyptian president to attend the Coptic Christmas mass every year, recently appointed a Coptic judge to head the Constitutional Court for the first time in history.

In this photo provided by Egypt’s presidency media office, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, meets with Judge Boulos Fahmy, after he was sworn in as the first-ever Coptic Christian to head the country’s highest court, in Cairo, Egypt, February 9, 2022. (Egyptian Presidency Media Office via AP)

Sissi said Sunday he had “presented his condolences by phone” to Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who has been the head of Egypt’s Christian community since 2012.

Accidental fires are not uncommon in the sprawling megalopolis of Cairo, where millions of Egyptians live in informal settlements.

Egypt, with its often dilapidated and poorly maintained infrastructure, has suffered several deadly fires in recent years.

In March 2021, at least 20 people died in a blaze in a textile factory in an eastern suburb of Cairo.

In 2020, two hospital fires claimed the lives of 14 COVID-19 patients.

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