After a bus carrying Christians to a monastery was attacked by masked gunmen, Egypt has launched airstrikes against militant bases in Libya. Pope Francis called the attack on the Christians a senseless act of hatred.
Egyptian air force planes have carried out six strikes directed at camps near Derna in Libya where Cairo believes militants responsible for a deadly attack on Christians earlier in the day were trained, Egyptian military sources said on Friday.
The report came minutes after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had announced Egyptian forces struck jihadist camps but without saying where the strikes took place.
East Libyan forces said in a statement later that they participated in the airstrikes, adding they al-Qaida-linked sites had been targeted.
Earlier in the day, at least 28 Coptic Christians were killed and another 22 wounded when the bus they were traveling in was attacked by gunmen in central Egypt as they were heading to the monastery near the upper Nile city of Minya.
Local media also broadcast images of the bus riddled with machine gun fire. Security officials quoted witnesses as saying they saw eight to 10 attackers in military uniforms and masks. The bus was in a small convoy that was stopped on a desert road. A pick-up truck in the convoy carrying workmen to the monastery was also targeted.
The remote monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Maghagha, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) south of Cairo is only reachable by a short, unpaved route off the main highway.
Christians account for more than 35 percent of the population in Minya, the highest level of any Egyptian province.
In a message to the Egyptian president on Friday, Pope Francis said he was saddened by the barbaric attack and "of the tragic loss of life and injury caused by this senseless act of hatred."
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi made an appeal to the US president in his televised address hours after the attack. "I direct my appeal to President Trump: I trust you, your word and your ability to make fighting global terror your primary task."
He also said his forces had struck bases where militants have been trained, but gave no details.
A manhunt is underway to find the attackers.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the killings in Egypt on Friday and reaffirmed "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security."
Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group also condemned the attack saying it was "a new crime added to the criminal record of a murderers' gang." In a statement released in Beirut, Hezbollah called for a "strong and frank stance in the face of terrorism that takes religion as a cover."
In Berlin, Foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Germany "condemns in the strongest possible terms these kinds of attacks on believers" and grieves with the victims and their relatives. He said Germany would cooperate with Egypt "to ensure that things like this don't happen again in future."
IS vows to step up strikes following pope visit
The killings comes less than a month after Pope Francis visited Egypt to call for inter-religious tolerance amid an upsurge in Islamist militant attacks against Christians. Egypt has the largest Christian community in the region, accounting for about 10 percent of the population.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but so-called "Islamic State" (IS) suicide bombers have carried out similar attacks. Following Pope Francis' visit, an affiliate of IS in Egypt vowed it would carry out further attacks on Egyptian Christians.
Egypt's main religious authority, Al-Azhar, condemned the shooting. In a statement, Al-Azhar's Grand Imam, Ahmed al-Taye, said: "The Minya incident is unacceptable to Muslims and Christians and it targets Egypt's stability."
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called for a meeting with top security aides to discuss the incident.
Series of attacks on Copts
In April, two separate attacks targeting Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria, killed nearly 50 people and wounded dozens more. The attacks prompted Sisi to declare a three-month state of emergency.
In December, 29 worshippers at Cairo's largest Coptic cathedral were killed in a suicide bombing also claimed by IS.
A number of jihadist-linked attacks and threats against Christians in the Sinai Peninsula have also forced hundreds to flee.
Egypt's army is fighting a counterinsurgency campaign against an IS affiliate in Sinai, where militants have carried out scores of attacks against police and army positions.
Inter-communal relations between Christians and Muslims can sometimes be strained in conservative areas of Egypt, with tensions flaring occasionally.
dm/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)