The passengers on the bus heard a noise and thought a tire had exploded.
One young man got up to see what had happened, and why there was so much smoke. But before he could open the door, a bullet smashed the glass and hit him in the head. Several gunmen dressed in military-style uniforms then sprayed the bus with gunfire.
“In a second, they [the gunmen] got inside and shot at every living and moving object they could see,” said the driver, Boshra Kamel, 56, who was shot several times but survived by playing dead. “Even the little children were targets to them.”
The passengers — a group of Coptic Christians — were on their way to a monastery in the Minya region, 150 miles south of Cairo, when the gunmen attacked last Friday, killing at least 30 people and wounding 26. It was the latest incident in rising violence targeting the country’s minority Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population.
Days after the massacre, I spoke to several survivors who had been transferred to the Nasser Medical Institute in Cairo for treatment. Among them were 13 members of one extended family.
With bullets still in her body, Samia Adly, 56, walked slowly down a hallway filled with relatives, religious leaders and officials who wanted to show their support for the victims.
Adly and her husband, Mohsen Morkos, 66, an Egyptian American, had come to Egypt about two months ago. They were on their way to the monastery for blessings after his successful lung surgery in the United States, she explained. Traveling on the bus with them were two sons, Hany and Sameh, both in their early 30s, two grandchildren and other family members.
“My son Sameh was the first to be martyred,” she said. “They then shot Boshra, the driver, and then killed my husband.”
Her 4-year-old granddaughter, Marvy, and a nephew were also shot and killed.
After the militants boarded the bus, they asked survivors of the first round of gunfire to “either recite the Islamic shahada creed, live as practicing Muslims, or be killed,” said Nadia Shokry, 54, who was shot three times.
Defying their attackers, the passengers began to pray. “The more we prayed for Christ, the angrier they became and started shooting again and more violently,” Boshra said.
“We told them that we are Christians and we will die Christians,” Adly said as she clutched a cross that a monk had given her at the hospital.
The attackers targeted the male passengers and then began confiscating gold jewelry, money and mobile phones from the female survivors, before shooting at them, too, and running away.
“I begged my attacker to stop after he shot me the first three times. He told me to shut up or he would shoot me in the heart,” Shokry said. She watched as the militants killed her husband, Samuel, 53, her son Mina, 30, and her 18-month-old granddaughter, Maroska, the youngest victim of the attack.
Maroska's mother tried to shield her from the flying bullets, but the baby was shot in the heart, Shokry said.
“We forgive them,” Shokry said about the attackers. “I pray God touches their hearts and changes them so that they see the right path.”
The bus attack comes a month after a twin bombing that targeted two churches in Alexandria and Tanta left 49 people dead and scores injured. Last December, a bomb exploded in the main cathedral in Cairo, killing 29 people.
But Minya has experienced the largest number of sectarian attacks, with more than 75 targeting Christian residents in the past six years.
Hours after the bus ambush, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi warned in a televised speech that government forces would strike training camps for terrorists who attack Egypt, regardless of where they are. Later that night, Egyptian fighter jets targeted several militant bases in eastern Libya, the Egyptian foreign ministry said.
But Christian leaders and the families of survivors said that the state needs to do more.
“They [security forces] are always present and on guard after the attack takes place, and keep their security measures tightened for a short while after,” Minya’s Coptic Bishop Makarios told The Washington Post. “What we need is real effort exerted to ensure this is not repeated, not just solidarity and compassion.”