Egypt's Coptic Christians lament jihadist persecution, forgive killers, but ask: 'Where is our government'?

Egypt's Coptic Christians are lamenting following the latest jihadist attack on their community, and are questioning the lack of government action to protect them.

The Ascension Day (May 26) attack on a bus of Coptic Christians in Minya killed 29, and it's now known that the US embassy had four days prior already warned of a terrorist threat, according to World Watch Monitor.

'How can it be that our security forces, after the warning from the US embassy, did nothing to intervene?' said Father Bernaba Fawzy, priest of St George's Church in the village of Nazlet Hanna. Seven of Fawzy's church members were killed in the attack, and eight were injured.

He added: 'This is very shameful. There must be protection for every human being in the land of Egypt, not just the Copts.'

The past six months have seen four major terror attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt: a December bombing of a church in Cairo, two Palm Sunday bombings of Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria, and then the Minya shooting last month. Around 100 have been killed in the attacks. 

Another local resident, Girgis Nady, criticised the inaction following the national state of emergency that was declared following the Palm Sunday bombings.

'There is just one reason for what happened,' he said. 'The failure of government officials.'

The Minya attack saw the bus of pilgrims en route to visit a monastery stopped by masked, armed jihadist militants.

One victim of the attack, Samia Adly, 56, from Nazlat Hanna, lost her husband, her two sons and two grandchildren in the shooting. She described her experience: 'It was a family trip and we were very happy, laughing and joking in the bus.

'While driving in the desert we heard an explosion and the bus stopped. Because we had engine problems earlier, I thought that it was something similar, until I looked out of the window and saw a number of masked men, armed and dressed in military uniform, coming out of four beige Jeeps. They fired guns to stop the bus.

'My son Sameh got out to find out what was happening, but when the terrorists saw him they shot him in the head, instantly killing him. One of our relatives immediately closed the door of the bus and stood behind it to prevent anyone entering. When the attackers could not get in, they opened fire on the windows and came in that way instead.

'Once they were in the bus, they asked us to recite the Islamic shahada [statement of faith] but we refused to do that and said to them that we are Christians and will die as Christians. Then they shot the men in the head and the neck.'

Adly said: 'I hoped they would kill me too, so I could be with the others in heaven. We don't fear death. We don't have a place in this world; our place is heaven. We know our way very well. Our God is a strong God and he is the God of love who has taught us to love and not to hate anyone. I forgive those who killed my family and pray for them, asking God to open their eyes and guide them in his way.'

Criticism has been levelled not just at the failure to prevent the attack, but at the police response following. Fr Fawzy said: 'The police and ambulances arrived at the scene very late. After the terrorists fled, the victims, including the injured, stayed in the bus for more than 45 minutes.

'One of the survivors, the wife of one of the men who died in the attack, called the police asking for help. The officer told her on the phone that it was a false report and asked her to give him her ID card number. Then he hung up.'

Coptic Christians represent about ten per cent of the majority Muslim country. Many have seen that targeting of Copts as politically motivated, an implicit attack on the state. Coptic Christians backed the 2013 revolution that led to a coup against President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government, and made military field marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi Egypt's president.

'Copts in Egypt are targeted by terrorists because of their support for the revolution,' said Fr Bernaba Eshaq, priest at Saint Mary's Church in Maghagha, Egypt. 'Terrorists aim to strike the Egyptian state and political leadership to change Egypt's identity from a moderate face to a radical and violent face.'

Hopes that Sisi's leadership would bring an end to the prevalence of Islamic extremism have been dashed.

Hany Farag, a Christian from Maghagha, Egypt, said: 'What I want to know is where the government is when it comes to protecting the Copts? And where is the president when it comes to protecting his people?

'I feel that Egypt is no longer a secure and safe country. Before this attack happened, Egypt was warned by the US Embassy that an act of terrorism might take place, but the government took no protection measures because the blood of the Egyptian is cheap.'