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Egypt church inferno kills 41, including 18 children

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By Euronews  with AP
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Abandoned shoes remain at the site of a fire inside the Abu Sefein Coptic church that killed at least 41 people on Sunday.
Abandoned shoes remain at the site of a fire inside the Abu Sefein Coptic church that killed at least 41 people on Sunday.   -   Copyright  Tarek Wajeh/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

At least 41 people have died -- including many children --  after a fire tore through a Coptic church in a densely populated area of the Egyptian capital on Sunday.

The blaze at the Abu Sifin church, wedged down a narrow alley in Cario, broke out in the middle of a crowded mass due to an electrical short circuit. 

18 children are among the dead, while a further 14 people were injured. 

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

Neighbours tried to rescue as many children as possible when the blaze started, but could "no longer go back because the fire was too big," said Reda Ahmed, who lives nearby. 

Fifteen firefighting vehicles were dispatched to the scene, and ambulances ferried the casualties to nearby hospitals, though some witnesses say they took more than an hour to arrive. 

Some people "threw themselves out of windows to escape the fire," said eyewitness Sayed Toufik, pointing to a car that was damaged by someone falling onto it. 

Funerals were held on Sunday evening in two churches for the victims of the fire, attracting hundreds of people wanting to pay their respects. 

Egypt's fire service brought the blaze under control by Sunday. 

The fire was caused by an air conditioner on the second floor of the building. It broke down and released a large amount of smoke, which was the "main cause" of injuries and death, according to the Ministry of Interior. 

Officials sent a team of prosecutors to the church to investigate the cause of the fire, previously unknown. 

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.

Additional sources • AP