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Dozens killed after fire engulfs Coptic church in Egypt

Many of the casualties were caused by smoke inhalation and a stampede as worshippers rushed to escape, a spokesman for Egypt's health ministry said.

CAIRO — At least 41 people were killed and 14 others were injured Sunday when a fire engulfed a Coptic church near Egypt's capital, Cairo, officials in the north African nation said.

The blaze at Abu Sefein church in Giza, a city on the west bank of the Nile, started at about 9 a.m. local time, Egypt’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Burned furniture, including wooden tables and chairs, and religious images are seen at the site of a fire inside the Abu Sifin Coptic church that killed at least 40 people and injured some 14 others, in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba, Cairo, Egypt, on Aug. 14, 2022.
Burned furniture, including wooden tables and chairs, and religious images at the site of a fire Sunday at Abu Sefein, a Coptic church in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba in Cairo.Tarek Wajeh / AP

It added that a forensic examination of the evidence had revealed that “an electrical malfunction” in an air conditioning unit started the fire. The church also housed classrooms and a kindergarten, the statement said.

Many of the casualties were caused by smoke inhalation and a stampede as worshippers rushed to escape, Dr. Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, a spokesman for the country's health ministry, said in a separate statement.

After the blaze was brought under control, the injured were transported to nearby hospitals, he said, adding that two police officers and three members of the Civil Protection forces were among the injured.

Egyptian firefighters respond to a fire at Abu Sifin, a Coptic Christian church, after more than 40 people were killed in the blaze in Cairo, Egypt, on Aug. 14, 2022.
Firefighters examine the wreckage at Abu Sefein church in Giza on Sunday.Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images

Offering his “sincere condolences to the families of the innocent victims who moved to their Lord in one of their houses of worship,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi tweeted that he was “closely following the developments of the tragic accident.”

The country’s chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, ordered an investigation, and a team of prosecutors was dispatched to the church.

More than 40 people were killed when a fire ripped through Abu Sifin, a Coptic Christian church, in the densely populated Imbaba neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt, on Aug. 14, 2022.
Egypt's Interior Ministry said an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit caused the fire.Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images

Egypt’s Christians, who account for about 10% of the nation’s 90 million people, have long complained of discrimination by the country’s Muslim majority.

Sunday’s blaze was one of the worst fire tragedies in recent years in Egypt, where safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced. In March 2021, a fire at a garment factory near Cairo killed at least 20 people and injured 24 more.

Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo and Hyder Abbasi from London.