Palm Sunday Tragedy: Dozens Killed In Twin Bomb Blasts At Churches In Egypt
Egypt’s Health Ministry says an explosion at a church in the coastal city of Alexandria has killed 11 people, and wounded at least 35 others.
The bombing appeared to be the second attack targeting Egypt’s Coptic Christians, after a bomb in a church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta killed 26 people and wounded more than 70.
The ministry said the explosion went off at Saint Mark’s Church in Alexandria, where Pope Tawadros II had earlier celebrated Palm Sunday.
No one immediately claimed either attack, but Islamic extremists have repeatedly targeted Egypt’s Christian minority in the past.
Islamic State affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula claimed an attack on a Cairo church in December that killed around 30 people, and vowed more attacks on Christians.
Palm Sunday is one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, marking the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem.
The state-run Nile television channel said the blast struck the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Tanta just before 10am (6.30pm AEST).
Provincial governor Ahmad Deif told the channel that the explosion occurred inside the church.
“Either a bomb was planted or someone blew himself up,” Deif said, adding that security forces had searched the church and surrounding areas for additional explosive devices.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s blast. 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.
French President Francois Hollande has expressed solidarity with Egypt following a deadly bombing at a church in the Nile Delta, north of Cairo.
In a written statement after Sunday’s attack, Hollande says “one more time, Egypt is hit by terrorists who want to destroy its unity and its diversity.” He says France “mobilises all its forces in association with the Egyptian authorities in the fight against terrorism,” and offers condolences to the families of the victims.
Jihadists and Islamists accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
In December, a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief helped the military to remove Morsi, defended his security forces in a televised address soon afterwards.
“(The attacks aim to) destabilise the fabric of Egypt … to give the impression that one group isn’t protected as it should be,” Sisi said at the time.
Following Morsi’s ouster, mobs attacked dozens of churches and Christian properties.
Pope Francis, who is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29 to show solidarity with Egypt’s Christian community, decried the deadly attacks, expressing his “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Church and all of the dear Egyptian nation,” and said he was praying for the dead and wounded in the attack. Word of the bombing came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square.
The pontiff asked God “to convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons.”
The pope’s remarks on the church attack were handed to him on a piece of paper after he remembered the victims of the Stockholm attack on Friday night.
Pope Francis will visit the site of the December church attack next to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral — the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II.