Witnesses say the deadly attack outside a church in Egypt lasted up to 20 minutes and that it took another 10 minutes before police apprehended the assailant.

Speaking to The Associated Press on Sunday, two days after the attack claimed by the Islamic State group, they said residents and worshippers may have prevented a much deadlier assault.

The Friday attack targeted the Mar Mina church in Cairo's southern Helwan suburb and a nearby, Christian-owned shop, killing at least nine people in total.

The witnesses say quick thinking by worshippers who closed the church's iron gate and the brave action of a 53-year-old resident who pounced on the gunman as he tried to reload his automatic rifle may have saved dozens of lives.