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Masked militants in Egypt kill 26 Coptic Christians, many of them children

Armed militants pulled over a bus filled with Coptic Christians, many of them children, and proceeded to open fire on the bus, killing many of its occupants. (Getty Images)

Masked militants riding in three SUVs opened fire Friday on a bus carrying Coptic Christians in Egypt, killing at least 26 people and wounding another 25. Many of the victims were women and children, CBS News reported.

According to eyewitnesses, the attack occurred at 8:45 a.m. as the bus traveled to St. Samuel Monastery, which is 140 miles south of Cairo, when 10 masked men with assault rifles, some wearing military garb, exited their vehicles and began shooting into the bus, CBS said. Some of the gunmen went into the bus and shot the Christians up close, indiscriminate of sex or age, witnesses revealed.

Only three children survived the attack, ABC News reported.

The attackers fled the scene after a few minutes. Tarek Hassan Nasr, governor of the Minya governorate, where the attack occurred, reported that Egyptian police have begun a manhunt for the attackers and set up roadblocks in the region.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, ABC News reported that the attack "bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State group."

According to CBS News, Syrian and Iraqi Islamic State groups have an affiliate based in the northern Sinai peninsula and have claimed credit for attacks on Egyptian Coptic Christians and Egyptian security forces in the past.

Coptic Christians comprise 10 percent of Egypt's 90 million residents. Despite the violence, the Coptic minority maintains a mostly peaceful relationship with Egypt's Muslim population.

The Islamic State vowed to step up its attacks against Christians following Pope Francis' visit to Egypt in April to show support for Christians within the Muslim majority nation. During the visit, the pope paid tribute to the victims of the December St. Peter's church bombing in Cairo.

ISIS warned Muslims to stay away from Christian gatherings and Western embassies, saying these groups would be targeted for future attacks.

In April, the St. George's Cathedral in Tanta, Egypt, was bombed on Palm Sunday, killing 27 and wounding 78. Not long after, a second bomb went off at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt, killing 16 and wounding 41. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks.

After the April attacks, Egypt declared a state of emergency and began rounding up suspected ISIS members. Egyptian forces launched a hunt for 48 men who were suspects in the Palm Sunday bombings. Thirty-one have been arrested, and 17 are still at large.

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