CAIRO—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 just 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 also posed a challenge, suffering a number of attacks by Islamic State militants that underscored the need for improvements to security.
Authorities put the initial blame on an electrical failure in an air-conditioning unit on the church’s second floor.
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 that the government has moved too slowly to grant proper legal status to churches, leaving many to operate in the gray zone. A 2020 report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights estimated that only a quarter of about 5,540 churches and subsidiary buildings that applied for legal status were 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, said the Ministry of Social Solidarity. A payment of 25,000 Egyptian pounds would be given if the deceased wasn’t the head of the family, they added.
Egypt’s Al-Azhar Islamic institution said it was weighing the provision of financial aid for the victims of the blaze.
Write to Chao Deng at Chao.Deng@wsj.com
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