Fire rips through Egyptian church killing at least 40

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At least 40 people have died and 14 others were injured after a fire ripped through a Coptic church in a densely populated area of the Egyptian capital on Sunday.

The blaze sent huge amounts of thick black smoke into the air as some 5,000 worshipers gathered for Mass at the Coptic Abu Sifin church in Cario.

Children are thought to be among the dead. 

The health ministry says it believes people died in a stampede as they tried to get out of the church, with fire blocking the entrance. 

Fifteen firefighting vehicles were dispatched to the scene, and ambulances ferried the casualties to nearby hospitals.

Egypt’s fire service says the blaze is now under control. 

While the origin of the blaze remains unknown, local police say an initial investigation suggests it may have been caused by an electrical short-circuit. 

Officials have sent a team of prosecutors to the church to investigate further.

It was one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years.

Worshippers recalled how events unfolded as the fire broke out. 

“People were gathering on the third and fourth floor, and we saw smoke coming from the second floor. People rushed to go down the stairs and started falling on top of each other,” Yasir Munir told Reuters.

“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.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi offered his “sincere condolences to the families of the innocent victims that have passed on to be with their Lord in one of his houses of worship”.

Coptic Christians number between five and 20 million in Egypt, which has a population of 103 million people.

Copts claim they face discrimination in the majority Muslim country and are excluded from public life.