TANTA/CAIRO – Islamic State was responsible for two Coptic church bombings in Egypt on Palm Sunday that killed at least 36 and injured over 100, the group’s news agency Amaq said.
“A group that belongs to Islamic State carried out the two attacks on the churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria,” Amaq said.
At least 36 people were killed and more than 100 injured in bomb attacks on two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, in the latest assault on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants.
The attack comes a week before Coptic Easter and in the same month that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt.
The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city less than 100 kilometers outside Cairo, killed at least 25 and injured at least 78, Egypt’s Ministry of Health said.
The second, carried out just a few hours later by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, hit the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 11, including three police officers, and injuring 35, the ministry added.
A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017 (Reuters)A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017 (Reuters)
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 Ministry of Interior said.
The bombings come as Islamic State’s branch in Egypt appears to be stepping up attacks and threats against Christians.
In February, Christian families and students fled Egypt’s North Sinai province after a spate of targeted killings.
Those attacks came after one of the deadliest on Egypt’s Christian minority, when a suicide bomber hit its largest Coptic cathedral, killing at least 25. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Thousands gathered outside the church in Tanta shortly after the blast, some wearing black, crying, and describing a scene of carnage.
“There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered,” said a Christian woman who was inside the church.
“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.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail are set to visit the Tanta site on Sunday and Sisi has ordered an emergency national defense council meeting, state news reported.
In Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely condemned the incident as a terrorist attack, saying it served as a reminder that Egypt is also under attack by terrorists.
Hotovely, in the first Israeli response to the Palm Sunday attack, said that terrorism does not stop at Stockholm, St, Petersburg, Berlin, London and Jerusalem.
“Alongside the sadness and the mourning, we must unite forces with an iron fist against the Axis of Evil and terrorism,” she said. “Israel is a partner in the fight against terror everywhere it hits and will extend a hand in order to wipe it out.”
Relatives of victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017 (Reuters)Relatives of victims reacts after a church explosion killed at least 21 in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017 (Reuters)
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on also condemned the bombing of the Egyptian church, Wafa, the official PA news site, reported.
Abbas said the Palestinian people and leadership stand with the Egyptian people, leadership and army against “the blind terror that is targeting Egypt.”
Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Copts face regular attacks by Muslim neighbors, who burn their homes and churches in poor rural areas, usually in anger over an inter-faith romance or the construction of church.
Islamic State’s branch in Egypt, which has waged a low-level conflict for years in the Sinai peninsula, has stepped up attacks on Christians in Egypt in recent months.
‘WE FEEL TARGETED’
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.
Egypt’s Christian community has felt increasingly insecure since Islamic State spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014, ruthlessly targeting religious minorities. In 2015, 21 Egyptian Christians working in Libya were killed by Islamic State.
“Of course we feel targeted, there was a bomb here about a week ago but it was dismantled. There’s no security,” said another Christian woman in Tanta referring to an attack earlier this month near a police training center that killed one policeman and injured 15..
Copts face regular attacks by Muslim neighbors, who burn their homes and churches in poor rural areas, usually in anger over an inter-faith romance or the construction of a church..