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ISIS Claims 2 Deadly Explosions at Egyptian Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday
The bombings, which killed at least 40 people and injured dozens of others, happened weeks before Pope Francis was to visit Egypt
By Magdy Samaan and Declan Walsh

Two explosions at Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday left at least 40 people dead and injured dozens of others as a day of worship in the besieged Christian community turned to destruction and carnage.

The first blast ripped through St. George’s Church in northern Egypt in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo, during a Mass about 9:30 a.m., according to an official from the Health Ministry. The deputy minister of health put the death toll at 27.

Hours later, a suicide bomber set off an explosion outside the main Coptic church in Alexandria, St. Mark’s Cathedral, killing at least 13 — including three police officers — and injuring 21 others, the Health Ministry said.

The explosions followed a number of attacks by Islamic State militants targeting Egypt’s minority Christians. And on Sunday, the group claimed responsibilty for both bombings.

An online statement shared by sympathizers and attributed to the militants said: “A security detachment of the Islamic State carried out the attacks against the two churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.”

The bombings happened weeks before Pope Francis was to visit Egypt, and a week before Easter.

The second attack took place while worshipers at St. Mark’s were leaving at the end of Palm Sunday Mass. The service had been led by the Coptic pope, Tawadros II. The pope had already left when the explosion happened.

Photos from St. George’s circulating on social media showed scenes of blood and devastation inside. Initial reports said that the explosion occurred in the pews near the front of the church, and that many of the dead were children.

A security official told the state news agency they believed the blast had been caused by an explosive device planted inside the church.

After the first blast, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi ordered military hospitals to treat the injured, Sky News Arabia reported.

Eyewitnesses said that an angry crowd outside the church in Tanta attacked a young man they accused of being involved in the attack.

After that explosion, the provincial governor, Ahmad Deif, told the state-run Nile News channel, “Either a bomb was planted or someone blew himself up.”

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

In December, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a chapel in the grounds of St. Mark’s Cathedral, the main Coptic Church in Cairo, killing at least 28 people.

In February, hundreds of Christians fled northern Sinai, where the Egyptian Army is fighting a local Islamic State affiliate, following a targeted campaign of violence and intimidation.

In 2011, a suicide bombing ripped through a throng of worshipers outside a Coptic Christian church in the port city of Alexandria, killing at least 21 people in one of the worst attacks against Egypt’s Christian minority.

Earlier this month, an explosion near a police training center in the Nile Delta city injured 13 officers.

Francis’ planned trip to the country is seen as an opportunity to improve ties between Christians and Muslims. The pontiff is to visit with Mr. Sisi; the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church; and the grand imam of Al Azhar, a 1,000-year-old mosque and university that is revered by Sunni Muslims.

In a news conference to provide details about the trip on Friday, the Catholic archbishop of Egypt, Bishop Emmanuel, said that the pope’s pending journey was a signal that Egypt is safe for visitors.

On Sunday, Francis said in response to the first bombing: “We pray for the victims of the attack carried out today, this morning, in Cairo, in a Coptic church.”

He called the leader of the Coptic Christians his “brother” and expressed his “deep condolences” to the church and the Egyptian nation.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also responded in a post on Twitter: “As we come to Easter, pray for victims, the justice of the cross, hope & healing of resurrection.”

In a Twitter post, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Ministry, Ahmed Abu Zeid, said, “Terrorism hits Egypt again.”

ISIS claims responsibility for Egyptian church attacks

Two Islamic State militants wearing suicide vests carried out the deadly church bombings in Egypt on Sunday that killed at least 44 people, the group said in a statement on Sunday that warned of future attacks.

The Alexandria bombing was carried out by an Islamic State militant it identified as Abu Al-Baraa Al-Masri, while the Tanta church bombing was carried out by an individual it named as Abu Ishaaq Al-Masri. (AP)

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An Egyptian holds out torn a page from a prayer book showing a section of the Gospel of John in Arabic inside the Mar Girgis Coptic Orthodox Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Cairo, at which a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to attend the Palm Sunday mass, on April 9, 2017. / (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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In video made available by Egyptian Interior Ministry, a man sits at right as a suicide bomber detonates at the front gates into St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt, Sunday April 9, 2017. (Egyptian Interior Ministry via AP)

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A picture taken on April 9, 2017 shows blood staining one of the columns of the Mar Girgis Coptic Orthodox Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Cairo, at which a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to attend the Palm Sunday mass. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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A girl is seen after a bomb attack near St. Marks Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt on April 9, 2017. (Ahmed Abd Alkawey/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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Bombings of Egyptian Coptic churches in Egypt. (Reuters)

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A picture taken on April 9, 2017 shows a general view of the destruction, debris, and blood stains on the benches of the Mar Girgis Coptic Orthodox Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Cairo, at which a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to attend the Palm Sunday mass. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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A relative of one of the victims reacts after a church explosion in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

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An Egyptian uses his cell phone to take pictures of the destruction, debris, and bloodstains on the walls and icon murals inside the Mar Girgis Coptic Orthodox Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Cairo, at which a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to attend the Palm Sunday mass, on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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Blood stains pews inside the St. George Church after a suicide bombing, in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

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People wait at the entrance of the church is seen after bomb attack near St. Marks Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt on April 9, 2017. (Fared Kotb/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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Egyptians load a body onto an ambulance near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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Egypt army members take position as people react at a scene after an attack by a suicide bomber in front of a church in Alexandria, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Fawzy Abdel Hamied/Reuters)

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Egypt’s special forces members take position after an attack by a suicide bomber in front of a church in Alexandria, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Fawzy Abdel Hamied/Reuters)

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Egyptians look at the scene around ambulances after a suicide bombing in front of a church in Alexandria, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Fawzy Abdel Hamied/Reuters)

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Egyptians gather in front of a Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

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Egyptians look at victims after suicide bomber in front of a church in Alexandria, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (Fawzy Abdel Hamied/Reuters)

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Egyptians react near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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People react in anger following an explosion at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017, killing several people, just after Pope Tawadros II finished services. (AP Photo/Hazem Gouda)

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Relatives and onlookers gather outside a church after a bomb attack in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

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Emil Edward, who was injured in a bomb attack, stands outside the Saint George church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

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People search through debris after an explosion hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017, killing several people, just after Pope Tawadros II finished services. (AP Photo/Hazem Gouda)

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People clean up debris after an explosion hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017, killing several people, just after Pope Tawadros II finished services. (AP Photo/Hazem Gouda)

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Egyptians wheel away a body near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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A general view shows forensics collecting evidence at the site of a bomb blast which struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Cairo, on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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Egyptians walk past blood stains in a street near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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Egyptians gather at near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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Egyptians gather around a body in a street near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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Blast at Egypt Nile Delta church kills 25

At least 25 people were killed and 60 injured when an explosion rocked a Coptic church in Egypt’s Nile Delta, 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 on Sunday in Tanta, a Nile Delta city less than 100 kilometres 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.

The blast has killed 25 and injured 60. Source: BBC

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,” said Vivian Fareeg.

“There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered,” said another Christian woman who was inside the church.

The scene outside where the explosion reportedly occurred. Source: CNN

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 defence 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 spiralling 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.

Copts face regular attacks by Muslim neighbours, who burn their homes and churches in poor rural areas, usually in anger over an inter-faith romance or the construction of church.

This vision has been posted by CNN. It’s shows the interior of the church moment before the explosion. Source: CNN

Tanta was also the site of another attack earlier this month, when a policeman was killed and 15 were injured after a bomb exploded near a police training centre.

Pope Francis 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 at the end of his Palm Sunday Mass before tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

He expressed his “deepest condolences” to all Egyptians and to the head of the Coptic Church, who is due to be one of his hosts on the April 28-29 trip.

Egypt: 21 dead in Coptic Church blast

At least 21 people were killed and dozens more injured in Egypt on Sunday in a blast at a church in the northern Nile delta city of Tanta.

Local media says an explosive device was placed under a seat in the main prayer hall of St George’s Coptic church, where worshippers had gathered for a Palm Sunday service, ahead of Easter.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Egypt’s Coptic Christians have regularly been targeted by Islamist militants.

The local branch of so-called Islamic State 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.

In December, a bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49, many of them women and children, in what was the deadliest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority in years. ISIL later said it was behind the bloodshed.

Egypt’s Christian community has felt increasingly insecure since ISIL spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014, ruthlessly targeting religious minorities.

In 2015, 21 Egyptian Christians working in Libya were killed by the jihadist group.

The latest blast comes ahead of a visit by Pope Francis, planned for the end of the month.

Tanta was also the site of another attack earlier this month when a policeman was killed and 15 were injured after a bomb exploded near a police training centre.

with Reuters

Blast Hits Coptic Church in Egypt's Tanta, Killing at Least 13

An explosion tore through a church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta on Palm Sunday, killing at least 13 people and wounding at least 42 others in yet another deadly attack on a Christian holiday.

A second blast rocked a police training center in the same city shortly after, the Al Arabiya news channel reported, without giving casualty figures.

The first explosion occurred inside the Mar Girgis church and was caused by a bomb, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. Magdi Awad, the head of the ambulance authority in the area provided the casualty toll. A deadly bombing targeting the country’s Coptic Christian minority during a church service in December killed at least 25 worshippers.

Egyptian authorities have been waging a war on militants, with much of the fighting centered in northern Sinai. Militants have sometimes struck outside the area, however, taking aim at Christians and security forces.

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Egypt church bombings: Isis claims responsibilty for two attacks targeting Christians on Palm Sunday

Isis has claimed responsibility for two bomb attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt which have killed at least 36 people.

“A group that belongs to Islamic State carried out the two attacks on the churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria,” the group’s news agency Amaq said.

Over 100 people were wounded in the attacks.

In the first, a bomb exploded at Saint George church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, killing at least 26 and wounding over 70.

Later, a second blast in front of a church in Alexandria killed 11 people and wounded 66, the health ministry said.

The group recently released a video vowing to step up attacks against Christians, who it describes as “infidels” empowering the West against Muslims.

An Isis affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a Cairo church in December that killed around 30 people, mostly women, as well as a string of killings in the restive northern Sinai that caused hundreds of Christians to flee to safer areas of the country.

The Sinai-based Isis affiliate has mainly attacked police and soldiers, but has also claimed bombings that killed civilians, including the downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai in 2015, which killed all 224 people on board and devastated Egypt’s tourism industry.

Dozens Killed in Attacks on Two Egyptian Churches on Palm Sunday

Back-to-back bombings at two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday killed more than 30 people in the deadliest assault on the country’s Coptic Christian community in years. One of the targets was the seat of the Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria.

No one claimed responsibility for the first blast inside the Mar Girgis church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta or the second outside the cathedral in Alexandria. At least 26 people were reported killed and 71 wounded in the Tanta bombing, which was caused by a device placed under the first row of pews, according to state-run media.

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At least 11 others died in Alexandria, state TV cited the Health Ministry as saying. One of the casualties was a police officer who tried to prevent a suspected suicide bomber from entering the church, the Ahram Gate news website reported, citing unidentified security officials. Pope Tawadros II, who had led Palm Sunday Mass in Alexandria, wasn’t hurt, state-run media said.

The attacks underscored the challenges confronting the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as it tries to attract international investors to revive an economy battered by years of unrest. In his meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House last week, the Egyptian leader focused on the need to combat terrorism while also pressing for continued U.S. aid to his nation.

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Egyptian authorities have struggled to rein in a wave of attacks, most of them carried out by militants affiliated with Islamic State in northern Sinai. The militants have also struck in urban centers and targeted Coptic Christians, widely estimated to make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million residents.


‘Most Dangerous’

Egyptian shares dropped after the attacks, with the benchmark EGX 30 Index retreating 1.6 percent at 1:46 p.m. in Cairo.

“This type of attack is the most dangerous, since it inflicts maximum amount of damage on human lives, disrupts tourism, and shakes the image of the state,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates. “It turns the conflict from a confrontation in the desert to a civil conflict in the heart of Egypt.”

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“This attack is likely to embolden the government, and provide it with even more legitimacy in its crackdown on Islamists and on dissent,” he said. 

El Sisi convened an emergency session of the national security council. This terrorism “will not undermine the will of Egyptians in facing the forces of evil, but will make them more determined to overcome hardship,” he said in a statement from the presidency.

Updates death toll, adds second attack from the first paragraph.

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Read Dozens Killed in Attacks on Two Egyptian Churches on Palm Sunday on bloombergpolitics.com

Deadly blasts hit Coptic churches in Tanta, Alexandria

At least 29 people have been killed in an explosion inside a church in the Egyptian Nile Delta city of Tanta, local media reported, as another blast killed 17 in front of a church in the coastal city of Alexandria. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group on Sunday claimed responsibility for both attacks, in a statement via its Amaq website. It said they were carried out by two of its fighters wearing suicide vests. Following the blasts, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered troops be deployed across the country to help secure “vital facilities” and said a three-month state of emergency would be imposed. The first attack occurred in the Coptic church of Mar Girgis, also known as St George, which was packed with worshippers marking Palm Sunday, a Christian feast commemorating the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.  Egypt’s state television reported that at least 71 people were wounded in the attack. OPINION: Sinai insurgency - An enduring risk Several hours after the bombing in Tanta, another explosion hit in front of Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria, where Coptic Pope Tawadros II was leading a service. Egypt’s health ministry said at least 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in the attack, which state TV said was a suicide bombing. Witnesses in Tanta described a bloody and chaotic scene. “Lots of bodies were torn apart and scattered on the floor,” one man who was standing on the church’s altar when the bomb exploded said. READ MORE: Egypt’s Coptic Christians flee Sinai after killings Another witness said she saw flames flaring up to the church ceiling. “There was thick smoke, I couldn’t see anyone,” she said. “We heard voices telling us to leave quickly. People were pushing so much that the gate bent.” Some on social media praised at least two police officers who they say stopped the suicide bomber from entering the church in Alexandria. They were killed in the blast. Samer Shehata, associate professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Al Jazeera the attacks show a “tremendous security lapse” by Egyptian authorities. “In the last few months, there have been an increased number of attacks on Egyptian Copts, individually, as well as on churches,” Shehata said, adding that the church in Tanta received a threat 10 days ago. “I do think this represents a lack of seriousness on the part of the state in really securing the Coptic community and places that could potentially be attacked.” Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said the attacks were designed to create religious strife. “It is alarming to see a specific religious group being targeted, which is going to rattle the Coptic community and many Egyptians in general,” Kaldas told Al Jazeera.

Copts repeatedly targeted

The bombings were the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, who make up about 10 percent of the population and have been repeatedly targeted by armed groups. They also come just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt. CBC TV showed footage from inside the church in Tanta, with a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. A bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49 in December, many of them women and children, in the deadliest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority in years.