Cairo: Seven people were killed on Friday when unidentified gunmen attacked a bus carrying Christians heading to a monastery in South Egypt, police said.

At least seven others were wounded in the attack that targeted the bus on its way to the St Samuel Monastery in Minya, around 240km south of Cairo, police added in a statement.

“The victims used a side road to reach the monastery because the main route had been closed as it was dangerous because it runs in the desert,” a security source said.

Police launched a massive hunt for the culprits.

Witnesses said the gunmen attempted to ambush three buses heading to the monastery. Two buses managed to escape the attack, while the third came under intense shooting.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, believed to have been carried out by extremists.

The attack is the deadliest targeting Egypt’s Christian minority in more than a year.

In May 2017, militants killed 29 people in a similar attack on a bus near the same monastery.

A month earlier, suicide bombers from Daesh targeted two churches in Alexandria and Tanata, leaving 48 people dead. The twin attacks prompted Egypt to declare a state of emergency, which is still in force.

Egypt has experienced a wave of militant attacks since the army’s 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi following enormous protests against his rule.

The attacks mainly targeted security forces and Christians, who backed Mursi’s removal.

In February, Egypt launched a major anti-terror operation targeting militants in the largely-desert North Sinai and elsewhere. Authorities have since reported major successes in the campaign.