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.
The earlier blast at a church in Tanta, north of Cairo, killed 30 people and wounded some 71, officials said, in an apparent attack on Coptic worshipers.
The two attacks are the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, which has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit the Arab world’s most populous country.
Egypt’s Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, accounting for around 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people, and have long complained of discrimination.
The Copts were largely supportive of the military overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, and incurred the wrath of many Islamists, who attacked churches and other Christian institutions after his ouster.
Islamic State claims Egypt church bombings
The Islamic State group claims responsibility for bombing two Egyptian churches on Sunday in the deadliest attacks on the country’s Christian minority in recent memory.
“Islamic State squads carried out the attacks on two churches in Tanta and Alexandria,” says the group’s self-styled Amaq news agency in a statement published on social media accounts.
Deadly blasts hit Tanta and Alexandria as worshippers gathered for mass, in latest attacks on Egypt's Copts
At least 36 people have been killed and scores injured in bomb blasts at two churches in northern Egypt as worshippers gathered for Palm Sunday mass, in the latest apparent attacks on Egypt's Coptic Christians.
The first blast hit the St George's church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, 120km north of Cairo, killing 25 and injuring about 70 others as hundreds attended a service.
Eleven people were killed and 66 reported injured in a second blast hours later outside Alexandria's St Mark's cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope Tawadros II.
Egyptian state security said a suicide bomber caused the explosion in Alexandria, where Tawadros had given a service hours before.
Pictures on social media showed dead an injured among shattered church pews in Tanta.
The Egyptian foreign ministry launched the "United On Palm Sunday" hashtag on Twitter, and called for solidarity "in the face of terrorism".
Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said: "Terrorism hits Egypt again, this time on Palm Sunday. Another obnoxious but failed attempt against all Egyptians #united_on_PalmSunday".
Pope Francis, who is due to visit Egypt this month, condemned the blast.
"I pray for the dead and the victims. May the Lord convert the hearts of people who sow terror, violence and death and even the hearts of those who produce and traffic in weapons," he said.
Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt's population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, have been targeted by several attacks in recent months.
Militants accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of the president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
At least 25 people were killed and 60 injured on Sunday when an explosion rocked a Coptic church in Egypt's Nile Delta, state television reported, the latest assault on a religious minority that has increasingly been targeted by Islamist militants.
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.
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