41 killed in onslaught on Egyptian Copts on Palm Sunday
An explosion struck Sunday near a church in Alexandria, hours after a bomb gutted a church north of Cairo, in an apparent concerted attack on Egypt’s Coptic community to coincide with Palm Sunday services.
According to the Health Ministry, at least 11 people were killed and 33 wounded when a car bomb detonated outside the St. Mark’s Church in the coastal city of Alexandria. State television reported that it was a suicide attack.
Egypt’s Coptic Church said Pope Tawadros II had attended Palm Sunday mass there. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he was still in the building at the time of the attack. His office confirmed that he was unharmed.
Islamic State claims Egypt church bombings
Deadly blasts hit Tanta and Alexandria as worshippers gathered for mass, in latest attacks on Egypt's Copts
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the cause of the blast, just one week before Coptic Easter and the same month that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt, was not known.
The bombing in Tanta, a Nile Delta city less than 100 kilometers outside Cairo, comes as Islamic State's branch in Egypt appears to be stepping up attacks on Christians and threatening them in messages blasted out to followers.
In February, Christian families and students fled Egypt's North Sinai province in droves after Islamic State began a spate of targeted killings there.
Those attacks came after one the deadliest on Egypt's Christian minority in years - before today - when a suicide bomber hit its largest Coptic cathedral, killing at least 25. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Eyewitnesses to Sunday's blast described a scene of carnage.
"There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe. I saw the intestines of those injured and legs severed entirely from their bodies," Vivian Fareeg told Reuters by phone.
"There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered," said another Christian woman who was inside the church.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail are set to visit the site on Sunday and Sisi has ordered an emergency national defense council meeting, state news reported.
A shift in Islamic State's tactics, which has waged a low-level conflict for years in the Sinai peninsula against soldiers and police, to targeting Christian civilians and broadening its reach into Egypt's mainland is a potential turning point in a country trying to prevent a provincial insurgency from spiraling into wider sectarian bloodshed.