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Egypt: At least 41 people killed in fire at church

President Abdel Fattah al Sisi says he is closely following developments after the ‘tragic accident’ amid fears that many of the dead are children.

At least 41 people have been killed in a fire at a church a few miles from Egypt’s capital, Cairo.

An electrical fire broke out as 5,000 worshippers gathered for mass at the Coptic Abu Sefein church in the Imbaba neighbourhood near Cairo, sources told the Reuters news agency.

The fire blocked an entrance to the church, causing a stampede, they said, adding that most of those killed were children.

The number of dead – at least 10 of whom are children – was announced by the country’s Coptic Church, citing health officials, and by security sources.

At least 14 other people were reportedly injured.

“People were gathering on the third and fourth floor, and we saw smoke coming from the second floor,” said Yasir Munir, a worshipper at the church.

“People rushed to go down the stairs and started falling on top of each other.

“Then we heard a bang and sparks and fire coming out of the window,” he said, adding that he and his daughter were on the ground floor and able to escape.

Maher Murad told Reuters he left his sister at the church after prayers, adding: “As soon as I got away from the church by only 10 metres, I heard the sound of screaming and saw thick smoke.

“After the firefighters doused the fire, I recognised my sister’s body.

“The bodies were all charred, and many of them are children who were in a nursery room in the church.”

“There are children, we didn’t know how to get to them,” said Abu Bishoy.

“And we don’t know whose son this is, or whose daughter that is. Is this possible?”

The interior ministry said it received a report of the fire at 9am local time, and the blaze broke out in an air conditioner in the building’s second story.

President Abdel Fattah al Sisi spoke by phone to the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences, the president’s office said.

“I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident,” Mr al Sisi wrote on Facebook.

“I directed all concerned state agencies and institutions to take all necessary measures, and immediately to deal with this accident and its effects.”

Sunday’s blaze is 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 fire at a garment factory near Cairo killed at least 20 people and injured 24 more.