Egyptian policeman, seven suspected militants killed in Cairo gunbattle

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian policeman and seven suspected militants were killed late on Tuesday in an exchange of gunfire after the ministry of interior received information about potential Easter attacks against Coptic Christians, the ministry said.

It said three other policemen had also been wounded.

The ministry’s statement said it had received information “that there is a terrorist cell, whose elements embrace Takfiri ideology, using several areas as a shelter in eastern and southern Cairo as a starting point to carry out terrorist operations” against the country’s Coptic Christians during the Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

The Copts, an Orthodox denomination who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s more than 100 million inhabitants, are the Middle East’s largest Christian community. They celebrate Easter on April 19.

Egypt uses the term Takfiri to refer to Islamist militants who often accuse their victims of being infidels.

Two private television stations broadcast what they said was footage of the shooting, which Reuters was not immediately able to verify. The stations asked people to stay indoors.

Weapons and ammunition were found at the scene, the ministry said.

The public prosecutor said a team of investigators was despatched to the scene of the exchange in the al-Amiyira district of the capital.

Coptic Christians have long complained of persecution and insufficient protection. There have been several deadly attacks against them across the country.

The last major attack, claimed by Islamic State, was in November 2018 when gunmen targeted two buses near the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor, 260 km (160 miles) south of Cairo killing seven people and wounding 18.

Egypt has been fighting an Islamist insurgency who have killed hundreds of police and soldiers in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula since the ousting of Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Militants have also carried out attacks elsewhere in the country.

The military and police launched a major campaign against militant groups in 2018, focusing on the Sinai Peninsula as well as southern areas and the border with Libya.

Reporting by Omar Fahmy, Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, Nadine Awadalla, Haitham Ahmed and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool