Video interviews with survivors of a deadly attack by Islamic militants on a bus taking Egyptian Christians to a remote desert monastery are painting a picture of untold horror, with children hiding under their seats to escape gunfire.
The videos surfaced on social media networks on Sunday, two days after 29 were killed in the attack on a desert road south of the capital. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on Friday. It was the fourth attack against Christians in Egypt since December to be claimed by the IS. The string of attacks have killed more than 100 and injured scores.
One survivor, a small boy who seemed to be about six, said his mother pushed him under her seat and covered him with a bag. A young woman speaking from her hospital bed said the assailants ordered the women to surrender their jewelry and money before they opened fire, killing the men first and then some of the women.
The woman said the gunmen were masked and wore military uniforms.
Two girls, ages 2 and 4, were among those killed, according to a list released by the local government in Minya, the province where the shooting took place. The attack left 26 wounded, including nine children. Only 11 of the 26 remained hospitalized on Sunday.
Bishop Makarios, the top Coptic Orthodox cleric in Minya, said the assailants told Christian men they ordered off the bus that their lives would be spared if they converted to Islam.
“They chose death,” said Makarios, who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of anti-Christian violence in Minya, where Christians account for more than 35 percent of the population, the highest anywhere in Egypt.
“We take pride to die while holding on to our faith,” he said in a television interview aired late Saturday.
Makarios confirmed that the assailants stole the women’s jewelry and his contention that the men were ordered off the bus before being killed was also confirmed by a video clip purportedly taken in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. This video showed at least four or five bodies of adult men lying on the desert sand next to the bus; women and other men screamed and cried as they stood or squatted next to the bodies.
Egypt responded to the attack with a wave of airstrikes against suspected militant bases where the military said the perpetrators trained. A large-scale manhunt by police and soldiers backed by helicopters is underway in the vast deserts to the west of the site of the attack, but has so far yielded no arrests.
In funerals for the victims held over the weekend in Minya, women relatives passed out, while others wailed in grief. There were chants demanding retribution. Others chanted “With our lives and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for the cross” and “Oh, God!.”
In the Vatican, Pope Francis, for the second day in a row, expressed his solidarity with Egypt’s Coptic Christians following Friday’s attack. He led thousands of people in prayer Sunday for the victims, who Francis said were killed in “another act of ferocious violence” after having refused to renounce their Christian faith.
Speaking from his studio window over St. Peter’s Square, he said: “May the Lord welcome these courageous witnesses, these martyrs, in his peace and convert the hearts of the violent ones.”