Egypt: Islamic State claims responsibility for Coptic priest murder

Egypt's North Sinai region is threatened by Islamic State insurgents.Reuters

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for shooting dead a Coptic priest in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula yesterday.

Rev Rafael Moussa, 46, was outside a car repair shop near his church in El Arish, the region's main town, when a masked man walked up and shot him. Witnesses said the man threatened them before fleeing.

"Islamic State soldiers were able to successfully target the priest Moussa Azmi, known as Rafael, who fights Islam," the group said in a statement.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 90 million people and are the Middle East's biggest Christian community. They face routine social and legal discrimination and their churches have frequently been attacked by extremists.

In a separate attack in Arish, one policeman was killed and three wounded when an improvised bomb exploded as their convoy drove near a police station, Egypt's Interior Ministry said.

Rev Boules Haliem, a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, said eight Christians had been murdered in the region since 2013 and that the violence has caused some Christians to leave the area for Cairo and other cities.

The recent murders are the latest in a series of attacks in northern Sinai, where the Egyptian Army has been fighting an Islamist uprising. The British Foreign Office advises against all travel to the area, saying: "There are regular bomb attacks against government buildings, security forces and energy infrastructure. The al-Arish area has seen many attacks, but the whole of the North Sinai region is at risk." A state of emergency has been declared and there is a night-time curfew.