18 children among dozens killed in Egypt church fire

According to the records, the children are aged between 3 and 16 years. The current death toll is 41 dead and 14 injured, a statement from Egypt’s Coptic Church said, citing health officials.

The interior ministry said the fire broke out at 9am local time due to an electrical fault in the air-conditioning unit on the second floor of the church. The small church is located in the densely populated Imbaba neighborhood.

Egypt’s interior ministry announced in a Facebook post that at least two officers and three members of the civil defense service who responded to the fire were injured.

Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by smoke inside church classrooms after a power failure, the Interior Ministry said.

Church officials also believe the fire was accidental, Ibrahim said. Egypt’s Coptic community and churches have historically been targets of religious-based violence and attacks, with persecution and discrimination on the rise since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.

“We are in constant contact with the local authorities and the Ministry of Health,” said Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Church, according to a church spokesman.

Mariam Malak, 23, told CNN she left the church shortly before the fire.

“When my mother called me after Sunday Mass on my way to work from church, she thought I was stuck in a fire. I looked back. [the] Church in flames. I lost it within minutes.

“Everyone who was there went to heaven, including our father Abdel Masih, who led the prayers this morning, and a lot of our families and friends. We are now trying to identify everyone,” he said.

CNN spoke with a family driving through the neighborhood looking for their cousin Irini’s body after the fire died down.

“I can’t believe I won’t see you again, Irini, why did you leave us?” Afaf, one of the women, grumbled along the drive from one church to another. Afaf’s sister Amani held Marina’s hand and prayed silently. Their cousin, Amani, cried silently in the front seat as her husband Sameh continued to drive.

It was almost sunset when they arrived at the church in the Al-Waraq neighborhood where prayers for the dead were held. The three women held hands as they made their way through security.

Hundreds of mourners came to the church to bring caskets from the hospital. Small boxes of children — some as young as 3 and 5 — were carried over the crowd through the church gate.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi expressed his condolences to the victims of the church fire.

“I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the innocent victims who went to their Lord in one of the houses of worship,” El Sisi said.

The Egyptian president said he was closely following the developments of the “catastrophic accident” and directed state agencies and institutions to take the necessary measures to immediately deal with the tragedy and provide care to the injured.

Egyptian soccer player Mo Salah, who plays for Liverpool and captains the national team, sent a message of support to the victims of the tragedy on Sunday: “My sincere condolences to the victims of the Abu Sefeen Church and my best wishes for a speedy recovery to all the injured.”

Lina El Wardani contributed to this report.

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