At least 26 Coptic Christians have reportedly been killed by gunmen in Egypt.
The Christians were travelling by bus to a monastery when they were attacked. Many of those killed were children, according to the New York Times.
Health officials said that the attack happened on Friday while the bus was travelling on the road to the St Samuel Monastery in the Minya governorate, about 220 kilometres, or about 140 miles, south of the Egyptian capital.
The health ministry has said there were between eight and 10 attackers dressed in military uniforms, according to witnesses.
Khaled Mogahed, the health ministry spokesman, said that the death toll had reached 26 but feared it could rise further. According to Copts United news portal, only three children survived the attack.
Arab television stations showed images of a damaged bus along a roadside, many of its windows shattered. Ambulances were parked around it as bodies lay on the ground, covered with black plastic sheets.
Though no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, it had all the hallmarks of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate.
Egypt has seen a wave of attacks on its Christians, including twin suicide bombings in April and another attack in December on a Cairo church that left over 75 people dead and scores wounded. The Islamic State group in Egypt claimed responsibility for them and vowed more attacks.
Last month Pope Francis visited Egypt in part to show his support for the Christians of this Muslim majority Arab nation who have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants.
During the trip, Francis paid tribute to the victims of the December bombing at St Peter’s church in Cairo, which is located close to St Mark’s cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Following the Pope’s visit, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and western embassies as they are targets of their group’s militants.
Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, have repeatedly complained of suffering discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at hands of the country’s majority Muslim population.
Over the past decades, they have been the immediate targets of Islamic extremists. They rallied behind the country’s general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in 2013 when he ousted Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged, especially in the country’s south, traditionally Egypt’s Christian heartland.