A man talks on the phone outside the Mar Mina Church after a blast, in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017 Reuters
Two unidentified gunmen killed nine people as they opened fire early Friday on a church south of Cairo, ahead of Coptic Christian celebrations next week, Egypt's state TV and health ministry said.
Security forces shot dead one of the terrorists in an exchange of fire outside the church of Mar Mina in Helwan district while the other assailant has been captured, state TV and state news agency MENA said.
Health ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed told state television that nine people — including a Muslim and eight Christians — had been killed, in addition to the gunman, and five injured. Those wounded include two women in critical condition, he added.
State TV aired footage of the assailant's body, showing a bearded man wearing an explosive vest lying on the ground as crowds gathered.
The interior ministry said in a statement in the afternoon that it arrested an attacker on a motorcycle who attempted to drive through security forces outside the church armed with a machinegun, ammunition and a bomb that he intended to detonate in the church.
The ministry said he killed two people when he opened fire on a shop before heading to the church where he shot dead seven people, including a policeman.
The arrested attacker is an active terrorist who has carried out a number of terrorist attacks targeting police and civilians, the statement added.
Cairo's security chief and a number of security officials visited the scene of the attack earlier Friday.
Friday's attack took place as Egyptian Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of the country's 93 million population, make preparations to celebrate Christmas on 7 January.
Dozens of Christians have been killed in terrorist attacks on churches and congregations in recent years.
Police have beefed up security around churches during the Christmas celebrations. The ministry of Interior has deployed 230,000 personnel to guard churches, parks and other vital institutions. Police have cordonned off streets around churches to preempt suicide attacks and installed metal detectors outside larger churches.