More than 40 people died in a fire that broke out during Sunday mass at a Coptic Christian church in the suburbs of the Egyptian capital Cairo, church officials said.
AFP reports that the fire started for unknown reasons at the Abu Sifine church in the northwestern labor area of Imbaba.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on his Facebook page: “I have mobilized all public services to ensure that all measures are taken.”
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Fire officials later said the fire was under control.
Egypt’s Coptic Church reported “41 dead and 14 wounded,” citing “sources in the Ministry of Health,” in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
The prosecutor’s office reported that it had started an investigation and sent a team to the scene to determine the cause of the fire.
Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, accounting for at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million people.
The minority has come under attack and complained of discrimination in the majority Muslim North African country, the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Copts have come under deadly attacks by Islamists, especially after Sisi toppled former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, when churches, schools and homes were burned.
Copts feel excluded from key government positions and deplore restrictive legislation for the construction of churches compared to mosques.
Sisi, the first president of Egypt to attend the annual Coptic Christmas Mass, recently appointed a Coptic judge as head of the Constitutional Court for the first time in history.
Sisi said on Sunday that he “expressed his condolences by phone” to Coptic Pope Tawadras II, who has led Egypt’s Christian community since 2012.
Accidental fires are not uncommon in the great metropolis of Cairo, where millions of Egyptians live in informal settlements.
Egypt, with its often crumbling and poorly maintained infrastructure, has seen several deadly fires in recent years.
In March 2021, at least 20 people died in a fire at a textile factory in the eastern suburbs of Cairo.
In 2020, two hospital fires claimed the lives of 14 Covid-19 patients.
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