In News & Reports

By The Wall Street Journal –

The blaze started as worshipers gathered for Sunday services and spread to a children’s nursery.

At least 41 people were killed and 14 injured when fire ripped through a Coptic church and children’s nursery in the Egyptian city of Giza as worshipers were gathering for Sunday services, authorities here said.

More than three dozen ambulances poured into the Imbaba district of Giza, the impoverished city on the western bank of the Nile River across from Cairo, where the Abu Sefein church is located. Most of the victims suffered from smoke inhalation, Egypt’s interior ministry said.

The fire began sometime before 9 a.m., with authorities putting initial blame on an electrical failure in an air-conditioning unit on the church’s second floor. The fire spread to the fourth floor where there is a nursery for children, authorities said, without releasing the ages of the victims.

Authorities ruled out foul play but said they were investigating. A spokesman at Abu Sefein church didn’t respond to requests for comment.

On Sunday, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi offered condolences to families of victims, telling the government to provide care for the injured.

Christians are a minority in Egypt, which is predominantly Muslim. Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

While Christian leaders have been vocal supporters of Mr. Sisi, the community has posed a challenge, suffering a number of attacks by Islamic State militants that underscored the need for improvements to security.

A woman who lost three children in the fire at the Abu Sefein church mourns at a funeral for the victims inside the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Giza.PHOTO: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS

Coptic activists and rights groups have criticized the government for obstructing Christian rights by shutting down church buildings and prohibiting Copts from collective worship.

They say the government has moved too slowly to grant proper legal status to churches, leaving many to operate in a gray zone. A 2020 report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights estimated that only one-quarter of about 5,540 churches and subsidiary buildings that applied for legal status have been granted preliminary approvals since 2016.

Authorities said they would pay the families of the victims of Sunday’s fire 50,000 Egyptian pounds, about $2,612, if the person they lost was the head of a household, the Ministry of Social Solidarity said. A payment of 25,000 Egyptian pounds would be given if the deceased wasn’t the head of the family, it said.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar Islamic institution said it was weighing the provision of financial aid for the victims of the blaze.

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