Bombings at Egyptian Coptic churches kill at least 44

Islamic State claims responsibility for attacks as Egypt declares a state of emergency

A woman mourns after two explosions killed at least 44 people in Egypt. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

A woman mourns after two explosions killed at least 44 people in Egypt. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

 

At least 44 people were killed in Egypt in bomb attacks at the cathedral of the Coptic Pope and another church on Palm Sunday, prompting anger and fear among Christians and leading to troop deployments and the declaration of a three-month state of emergency.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also injured more than 100 people and occurred a week before Coptic Easter, with Pope Francis scheduled to visit Egypt later this month.

The assault is the latest on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants, and a challenge to president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has pledged to protect them as part of his campaign against extremism.

The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100km north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St George Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.

Suicide bomber

The second, carried out a few hours later by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers, and injuring 41, the ministry added.

Coptic Pope Tawadros, who had attended Mass at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, was still in the building at the time of the explosion but was not harmed, the Interior Ministry said.

Mr Sisi ordered troops be deployed across the country to “assist the civilian police in securing vital facilities in all provinces of the republic”.

Deflecting Western criticism that he has suppressed political opposition and human rights activists since he won election in 2014, Mr Sisi has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism.

“The attack. . . will only harden the determination [of the Egyptian people] to move forward on their trajectory to realise security, stability and comprehensive development,” Mr Sisi said.

Thousands gathered outside the Tanta church shortly after the blast, some weeping and wearing black. They described a scene of carnage.

“There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered,” said a Christian woman who was inside the church at the time of the attack.

“There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe,” another Christian woman, Vivian Fareeg, said.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan offered his “sincere condolences” to the families of those killed, saying:

“I condemn the attacks and those responsible. These attacks come just as the Church begins the Easter, a special time for the Coptic and other Christian churches.

“There can be no justification or purpose for such horrendous acts of violence.”

Reuters