At least 41 killed in fire at Coptic church in Egypt

At least 41 killed in fire at Coptic church in Egypt

CAIRO - At least 41 people were killed and 14 injured when a fire engulfed a Coptic church near Egypt's capital, Cairo Sunday, officials in the north African nation said.

The blaze at the Abu Sefein Church in Giza, a city on the west bank of the Nile, started at around 9 a.m. local time, Egypt s interior ministry said in a statement.

A forensic examination of the evidence revealed that an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit had started the fire. The statement said that the church also housed classrooms and a kindergarten.

As worshippers rushed to escape, many of the deaths were caused by smoke inhalation and a stampede, a spokesman for the country's health ministry said in a separate statement.

After the blaze was brought under control, the casualties were transported to nearby hospitals, he said, adding that two police officers and three members of the Civil Protection forces were among the injured.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has expressed his sincere condolences to the families of innocent victims who have been moved to their Lord in one of their houses of worship. He said in a tweet that he was closely following the developments of the tragic accident. The country's chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, ordered an investigation and sent a team of prosecutors to the church.

Egypt's Christians account for about 10% of the nation's 90 million people and have complained of discrimination by the nation's Muslim majority.

Sunday s blaze was one of the worst fire tragedies in recent years in a country where safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced. In March last year, a garment factory in Cairo killed 20 people and injured 24 more.

Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo and Hyder Abbasi from London.