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Egyptian Authorities Stop Planned Islamic State Terror Attack on Coptic Monastery in Upper Egypt

Egyptian authorities have dismantled a terror cell operating in Upper Egypt that was planning attacks targeting the Coptic Christian community, including the Virgin Mary Monastery in Durunka near Assiut.

Automatic weapons and ammunition were found by the Interior Ministry when it raided the compound of the Islamic State cell.

This comes just days after two explosions killed 51 people in Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday.

Daily News Egypt reports:

The Ministry of Interior said Monday that it killed seven people in a gunfire exchange in Assiut, after attempting to arrest them on accusations of belonging to a terrorist cell adopting the ideology of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

The ministry said it only identified three of them so far: 31-year-old employee at the health directorate, Hassan Abdul Aal; 22-year-old law school student, Islam Saeed; and 23-year-old Mostafa El-Sayed.

The ministry said they were found in possession of five automatic rifles among other weapons and ammunition. It said they were part of a terrorist cell that was planning to target Copts and their properties in the governorate, namely the Monastery of the Holy Virgin Mary in the village of Dronka.

The Coptic diocese of Minya, which covers the area of Assiut and has one of the largest Coptic populations in Egypt, has canceled all Easter services this week due to the continued threat.

Bishop Makarios issued a statement explaining the cancellation:

The cancellation of celebrations will apply to all churches in the diocese "due to the current circumstances the country and the Church are witnessing," the bishop announced in a statement on the Eparchy's Facebook page.

"The Easter mass will be limited to prayers only," the statement said.

"We apologise that we will not be receiving felicitations from officials or regular citizens. The Eparchy also appreciates all the kind regards it has received from everybody."

I noted my meeting with Bishop Makarios in my trip report here at PJ Media after visiting the churches and monasteries destroyed by the Muslim Brotherhood in August 2013.

This will only be the third time in 1,600 years that services in Minya have been halted, the second time was days after those Muslim Brotherhood attacks.

The situation for Coptic Christians in Minya and throughout Upper Egypt has been consistently difficult since the beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring":

I reported in February that Islamic State attacks on the Coptic community in el-Arish in the Sinai and a series of murders had prompted a mass evacuation of Christians to the other side of the Suez Canal:

Those attacks followed the suicide bombing of a church inside the Coptic cathedral in Cairo back in December that killed 29:

The Islamic State took credit for the December church bombing as well, later putting out a video with the suicide bomber and threatening more attacks on Christians.

Random attacks on Christians in the Nile Delta have also occurred this year:

Even the U.S. establishment media has taken note of the plight of the largest Christian community in the Middle East:

Despite the violence, Pope Francis said he still plans to visit Egypt later this month.

It looks to be a potentially deadly Holy Week for Egypt's Christians. We will continue to monitor the situation.