More than 40 people were killed in a blaze that broke out during a Sunday mass in a Coptic Christian church in a suburb of Egypt’s capital Cairo, church officials said.
The blaze started for unknown reasons at the Abu Sifine church in the capital’s northwestern, working-class district of Imbaba.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared on his Facebook page: “I have mobilised all state services to ensure that all measures are taken.”
Fire services later said the blaze had been brought under control.
The Egyptian Coptic Church reported “41 dead and 14 injured” citing “sources in the Ministry of Health”, in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
The prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation and sent a team to the scene to establish the cause of the blaze.
Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million people.
The minority has suffered attacks and complained of discrimination in the majority Muslim north African country, the Arab world’s most populous.
Copts have suffered deadly attacks at the hands of Islamists, particularly after Sisi overthrew former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, with churches, schools and homes burnt down.
Copts feel they have been left out of key state positions and deplored restrictive legislation for the construction of churches compared to that of mosques.
Sisi, the first Egyptian president to attend the Coptic Christmas mass every year, recently appointed a Coptic judge to head the Constitutional Court for the first time in history.
Sisi said Sunday he had “presented his condolences by phone” to Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who has been the head of Egypt’s Christian community since 2012.
Accidental fires are not uncommon in the sprawling megalopolis of Cairo, where millions of Egyptians live in informal settlements.
Egypt, with its often dilapidated and poorly maintained infrastructure, has suffered several deadly fires in recent years.
In March 2021, at least 20 people died in a blaze in a textile factory in an eastern suburb of Cairo.
In 2020, two hospital fires claimed the lives of 14 Covid-19 patients.