Egyptian security forces have killed 19 people linked to a deadly attack on Coptic Christians.

Egyptian security forces have killed 19 people linked to a deadly attack on Coptic Christians, according to the interior ministry.

The suspects were killed in a gunfight in the desert of Minya province in central Egypt after security forces pursued them, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

“The terrorist elements opened fire on the [security] forces who responded,” the statement said.

Those killed were part of the group that killed seven Coptic Christian pilgrims in the same province on Friday, the ministry said.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, claimed responsibility for the attack, although it provided no evidence of its involvement.

Friday’s attack was the latest in a string of assaults against the minority Coptic community.

Armed men opened fire on buses carrying pilgrims to the Monastery of St Samuel in Minya province, killing seven people and leaving 18 wounded.

On Saturday, hundreds gathered at the Prince Tadros church in Minya, a city some 260km south of the capital, Cairo, to bury six members of the same family who were shot dead in the attack. Among them were a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.

The seventh victim, an Anglican bus driver, was buried on Friday evening in a village outside Minya.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said he was pained over the attack on the pilgrims.

“I express my pain after the terrorist attack which two days ago hit the Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt,” Francis said in Saint Peter’s.

“I pray for the victims, pilgrims killed just because they were Christian,” he added.

The Copts are an Orthodox denomination who make up an estimated 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s more than 90 million people, although there is no formal religious census to determine an exact number.

They are the Middle East’s largest Christian community and have long complained of persecution and insufficient protection.

In December 2017, a gunman killed 11 people at a church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo.

More than 100 Copts have been killed in such attacks since 2011, according to The Associated Press news agency.

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