Gunmen leave 26 dead, 25 injured in bus attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt

CAIRO, May 26 (Reuters) - Gunmen attacked buses and a truck taking a group of Coptic Christians to a monastery in southern Egypt on Friday, killing 26 people and wounding 25 others, witnesses and the Health Ministry said.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said the unidentified gunmen had arrived in three four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Eyewitnesses said masked men stopped the two buses and a truck and opened fire on a road leading to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority.

Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.

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Security guards stand near the site of an attack that killed at least 26 people in Minya, Egypt May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Security guards stand near the site of an attack that killed at least 26 people in Minya, Egypt May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A security guard gestures near the site of an attack that killed at least 26 people in Minya, Egypt May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Aftermath of attack on buses and truck carrying Coptic Christians in Minya Province, Egypt, May 26, 2017. EGYPT TV via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. EGYPT OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN EGYPT.
Ambulances and medics outside Maghagha Hospital in Minya Province, Egypt in this screen grab take on May 26, 2017. REUTERS TV
Aftermath of attack on buses and truck carrying Coptic Christians in Minya Province, Egypt, May 26, 2017. EGYPT TV via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. EGYPT OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN EGYPT.
Child wounded in gunmen attack in Egypt taken to the Maghagha hospital in Minya Province, Egypt in this screen grab take on May 26, 2017. REUTERS TV
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The grand imam of al-Azhar, Egypt's 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning, said the attack was intended to destabilize the country.

"I call on Egyptians to unite in the face of this brutal terrorism," Ahmed al-Tayeb said from Germany, where he was on a visit.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called a meeting of security officials, the state news agency said. The Health Ministry put the toll at 26 dead and 25 wounded.

Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 92 million, have been the subject of a series of deadly attacks in recent months.

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About 70 have been killed since December in bomb attacks on churches in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta.

Those attacks were claimed by Islamic State. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's attack. (Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein, Omar Fahmy and Mohamed Abdellah; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Louise Ireland and Gareth Jones)

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Egyptians gather in front of a Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Egyptians gather in front of a Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A general view is seen as Egyptians gather by a Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Egyptians gather in front of a Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A victim is seen on a stretcher after a bomb went off at a Coptic church in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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