EL-ARISH, Egypt — Egyptian officials say a Coptic Christian priest and two members of the country’s security forces have been killed by suspected Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula’s turbulent north.
They say the priest, 46-year-old Raphael Moussa, was gunned down while walking in the city of el-Arish on Thursday. He died instantly after being shot in the head.
Moussa had earlier left a church in the area where he attended Mass, said Boulos Halim, a church spokesman. Christian clerics in the past have been targeted by militants in Sinai.
Another Coptic priest, Mina Aboud, was shot and killed on July 6, 2013, shortly after the Egyptian military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, an act that triggered bloody conflicts across the country and a crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The Coptic Church, a branch of Orthodoxy, is the largest Christian tradition in Egypt, where the Christian minority makes up roughly ten percent of the national population and comprises the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
According to AFP, ISIS claimed responsibility for the assault, saying a “squad” of its gunmen killed the 46-year-old priest for “combating Islam,” in a statement posted on social media accounts.
In a separate attack, a bomb blast killed one policeman and wounded two outside el-Arish’s main hospital.
In a village near the border town of Rafah, a bomb blast badly wounded a soldier. The soldier was wounded again when an ambulance taking him to el-Arish, escorted by an armored vehicle, was ambushed by militants. Another soldier was killed.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
(Crux Staff also contributed to this report.)