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Dozens dead after fire rips through church in Cairo

Emergency personnel work at the site of the fire at the Abu Sefein church (Mohamed Salah/AP)
Emergency personnel work at the site of the fire at the Abu Sefein church (Mohamed Salah/AP)

A fire has ripped through a church in a densely populated neighbourhood of Cairo, leaving at least 41 dead and injuring 14, a spokesperson for Egypt’s Coptic Church said.

The cause of the blaze in the Abu Sefein church in the working-class neighbourhood of Imbaba was not immediately known.

An initial investigation pointed to an electrical short-circuit, according to a police statement.

The Coptic Church said the fire broke out while a service was under way on Sunday morning.

Egypt Fire
People gather at the site of the fire (Mohamed Salah/AP)

Fifteen firefighting vehicles were dispatched to the scene to put out the flames while ambulances ferried the casualties to nearby hospitals.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi spoke by phone with 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 El-Sissi 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.”

The Health Ministry said ambulances transferred at least 55 injured people to local hospitals.

The Interior Ministry said it received a report of the fire at 9am local time, and they found the blaze broke out in an air conditioner in the building’s second storey.

The ministry, which oversees police and firefighters, blamed an electrical short-circuit for the fire, which produced huge amounts of smoke.

Egypt Fire
The blaze broke out in the densely populated neighbourhood of Imbaba (Mohamed Salah/AP)

The country’s chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, ordered an investigation and a team of prosecutors were dispatched to the church.

Egypt’s Christians account for some 10% of the nation’s 90 million people and have long 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 fire at a garment factory near Cairo killed at least 20 people and injured 24 more.