At least one police officer was killed and four others were injured after gunmen attacked security forces near St. Catherine’s Monastery at south Sinai in Egypt late on Tuesday. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack via its news agency Amaq.
The latest attack comes just 10 days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt and just a week after the deadly twin church bombings killed 45 people on Palm Sunday in Egypt.
The attack, which plunged the country into mourning and marked one of the bloodiest days for the country’s Christian minority in decades, was also claimed by the Islamic State. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency following the incident.
A police checkpoint situated about 800 metres from the entrance to the monastery in south Sinai was attacked by the ISIS gunmen. According to the officials, the gunmen were shooting from an elevated hilltop overlooking the police checkpoint just outside the monastery, which is located in a remote desert and mountainous area in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula.
St. Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai, was founded in the 6th century. It is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. The monastery is a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Following the attack, the tourist facilities across southern Sinai have been put on high alert.
Egypt’s Christian minority makes up about 10 percent of the population in the country of 92 million people, pre-dominantly Muslims. It has been increasingly targeted by Islamist militants. Within a span of four months, the terrorist organisation has carried out three deadly church attacks in Egypt.
In December 2016, a blast at Cairo’s main Coptic Christian Cathedral had killed 25 people and injured 35 others.
According to Reuters report, several Christian families and students had fled the North Sinai province in February this year after a series of targeted killings. The latest successful assault on St. Catherine’s monastery comes as a fresh challenge to President Sisi, who had pledged to protect the religious minority as part of his campaign against extremism.
Egypt has been battling an Islamist insurgency in the rugged and thinly populated northern Sinai for several years. The battle gained pace after the military overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
Earlier this month, Israel banned its citizens from crossing over into the Sinai peninsula citing the increasing threat of attacks by Isis and other jihadi groups in the area. However, attacks in the south Sinai, which is dotted with Red Sea resorts and is a popular destination for tourists, are by contrast rare.