Egyptian Coptic priest shot dead in El-Arish
EL-ARISH - The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a shooting attack that killed a Coptic priest in the Sinai Peninsula on Thursday.
The jihadist group said a "squad" of its gunmen killed the 46-year-old priest for "combating Islam", in a statement posted on social media accounts.
At least one unidentified gunman killed an Egyptian priest in a city in North Sinai on Thursday where authorities are battling a jihadist insurgency, security officials and the Coptic Church said.
Raphael Moussa, 46, was killed instantly when a man shot him in the head while he was standing next to his car in North Sinai capital El-Arish, said Boulos Halim, a church spokesman.
Moussa had earlier left a church where he attended a mass, Halim said.
Security officials said more than one gunman had been involved in the shooting and had followed the priest and opened fire when he emerged from his car.
A branch of the Islamic State group in the frontier peninsula has waged an insurgency that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.
Moussa was not the first priest killed in Arish. Another, Mina Aboud, was shot dead on July 6, 2013, three days after the Egyptian military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, unleashing clashes and a crackdown on his supporters.
Pro-Islamists attacked and torched dozens of churches and Christian properties a month later, after police killed hundreds of Morsi supporters in Cairo clashes.
They accused the Coptic minority of supporting the overthrow of Morsi, whom the army deposed after millions of Egyptians rallied to demand his resignation.
Leading Muslim clerics, as well as the opposition and the Coptic Orthodox Church, supported his overthrow after a year of divisive rule.
While no one has claimed responsibility yet for the attack, jihadists in Sinai have targeted Christians before, as well as Muslims they accuse of working with the government.
They have also attacked tourists.
IS claimed responsibility for last October's bombing of a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from a south Sinai resort, killing all 224 people on board.
"The whole situation in El-Arish and North Sinai is under threat," said Halim. "Many people (Christians) have left."
Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 90 million, have faced persecution and discrimination that spiked during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011.
Dozens have been killed in recent years in sectarian attacks and clashes throughout Egypt.