Egyptian religious officials say authorities have shuttered three Coptic Christian churches over fears of attacks by Islamic militants.

The Minya Coptic Orthodox Diocese said authorities sealed off two churches in the southern province, citing harassment and attacks by fundamentalists. A third was closed due to fears of attacks. The statement was issued late on Saturday, 28 October.

Minya Governor Essam Badawi on Monday denied the churches were closed for security reasons, saying they were "unlicensed houses" that lacked the documentation needed to "perform religious rites."

He confirmed that 15 suspects were arrested over an attempted attack on one of the locations on Friday.

In a statement quoted by Reuters, the Coptic Diocese said worshippers were harassed in two of the churches.

"We have kept quiet for two weeks after the closure of one of the churches, but due to our silence the situation has worsened ... it is as if prayer is a crime the Copts must be punished for," it said.

Coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt's population. Islamic extremists have targeted them on a number of occasions in recent years.

In May, at least 29 people were killed when the Islamic State (Isis) terror group attacked a bus heading to the Saint Samuel monastery, near Minya.

Another 29 people were killed when an Isis suicide bomber targeted St Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo last December.

In February 2015, Isis circulated images of its militants executing 21 Coptic Christians who had been kidnapped from Sirte, Libya. In response, Egypt launched air strikes targeting Isis positions.

An Egyptian Coptic church Dronka village, outside Assiut, Egypt
A Coptic church in Egypt Reuters