It is unclear how many children were killed in the fire at at Abu Sefein church, but it was crowded with worshippers attending Sunday mass, Coptic Church spokesperson Archpriest Moussa Ibrahim said.
At least two officers and three civil protection service members were injured responding to the fire, Egypt’s interior ministry announced in a Facebook post.
The statement added that the fire started around 9 a.m. local time and was caused by an electrical failure in an air conditioning unit on the church’s second floor.
Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by smoke inside church classrooms after the electric failure, the interior ministry said.
Church officials also believe the fire was accidental, Ibrahim said. Egypt’s Coptic community and churches have been a target of religious-based violence and attacks historically, with persecution and discrimination spiking since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
“We are in continuous contact with the local authorities and the Health Ministry,” the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II said, according to the church spokesperson.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi tweeted his condolences to the victims of the fire at the church.
“I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the innocent victims who moved to the side of their Lord in one of the houses of worship,” El Sisi said.
The Egyptian president said he is closely following developments of the “tragic accident” and that he has directed state agencies and institutions to take the necessary measures to immediately deal with the tragedy and provide care for those injured.
Egyptian soccer player Mo Salah, who plays for Liverpool and captains the national team, also sent a message of support to those affected by the tragedy on Sunday, saying in a tweet: “My sincere condolences to the victims of the Abu Sefein Church, and my best wishes for a speedy recovery to all the injured.”