IS bombs churches in Egypt during mass; 43 lives lost
Tanta (Egypt): The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for bombing two Egyptian churches as worshippers gathered to mark Palm Sunday, killing at least 43 people.
The attacks, said to be the deadliest on the Coptic Christian minority in recent times, followed a Cairo church bombing in December and came weeks before a planned visit by Pope Francis to show support for Egypt’s Christian minority.
The first bombing struck the Mar Girgis church in the city of Tanta, north of Cairo, killing 27 people, the health ministry said.
“I just felt fire grabbing my face. I pushed my brother who was sitting next to me and then I heard people saying ‘explosion’,” a wounded witness said in hospital.
Emergency services had scrambled to the scene when another blast rocked Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria where Coptic Pope Tawadros II had been leading a Palm Sunday service. Sixteen people, including three police officers were killed in that attack, which the interior ministry said was caused by a suicide bomber who blew himself up when police prevented him from entering the church.
At least 78 people were wounded in Tanta and 40 in Alexandria, the health ministry said. Officials denounced the violence as an attempt to sow divisions in Egypt, and Francis sent his “deep condolences” to Tawadros.
IS claimed that its “squads” carried out both attacks, in a statement by its self-styled Amaq news agency published on social media. There were bloodstains on the floor of the church in Tanta, next to shredded wooden benches. State television reported that the interior minister sacked the provincial head of security and replaced him after the attack.
On March 29, the Mar Girgis church’s Facebook page said a “suspicious” device had been found outside the building that security services removed. Worshippers had been celebrating Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, marking Jesus’s triumphant entrance to Jerusalem.
Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and celebrate Easter next weekend, have been targeted by several attacks in the recent months.
Jihadists and Islamists accuse Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters. The bombing of the church within a compound that also holds the seat of the Coptic papacy was the deadliest attack against the minority in recent memory.