Dozens killed in bombings at Coptic churches; Islamic State claims responsibility

Apr 11, 2017, 00:20

State media said at least 27 people were killed and 78 others were injured when a bomb exploded last Palm Sunday at the main prayer hall of St. George's Church in Tanta, Egypt.

ALEXANDRIA/TANTA, Egypt, April 10 (Reuters) - Families of victims of Sunday's bombing at Alexandria's Coptic cathedral gathered at the Monastery of Saint Mina under heavy security on Monday as Egypt's cabinet approved a three-month state of emergency ahead of a scheduled trip by Pope Francis. Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their ad limina visit at the Vatican Feb. 6, during which they also gave a report on the state of the Church in their country.

The bombings came on the Sunday before Easter, the day that marks the start of Holy Week for Christians. He failed to dismiss his minister of interior and other security chiefs for their incompetence, or to declare specific plans to combat hate speech and incitements by his Salafi allies that is at the root of these attacks. Yet, the Egyptian government is directly responsible for allowing the proliferation of hateful Islamic fundamentalist ideology that has infiltrated nearly every aspect of the Egyptian society and resulted in the thorough marginalization of Copts and made them second-class citizens in their own country.

"Leave, leave, Abdel Ghaffar!" mourners chanted.

Youth gathered at the Alexandria funeral shouted chants rarely heard in a country where protesting has effectively been outlawed and rights activists say they face the worst crackdown in their history.

At the scene of the Alexandria blast on Monday investigators combed through the wreckage, taking pictures of the debris.

A handful of black-clad women showed their identification papers to guards before being allowed to enter the church.

"I'm so sad, I can not speak", said one mourner, a woman in her 40s.

The state of emergency came into effect at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT).

A second blast took place shortly after outside of a Christian church in Alexandria, killing 17 and injuring another 35.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis sent his "deep condolences" to the Coptic church, the pope and the nation.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency in Egypt after twin church bombings that killed dozens of people in two cities on Sunday. He warned that the war against jihadists "will be long and painful" after he had ordered the army to protect "vital infrastructure" and increase security along Egypt's borders.

What Egypt needs, he said, are "fair trials, not emergency courts with no appeal, which is mainly what the latest declaration of a state of emergency will give him".

According to Hussein Hammouda, a retired Egyptian police brigadier-general, the attacks were meant to "punish the [Coptic Orthodox] Church for its support for the ruling regime, confuse Egypt's security apparatus, and respond to the army's ongoing [anti-militant] campaign in the Sinai Peninsula".

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were aimed at a vulnerable religious minority on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.

The blast in Egypt's second largest city, which killed 17 including 7 police officers, came hours after a bomb struck a Coptic church in Tanta, a nearby city in the Nile Delta, that took the lives of 28 and wounded almost 80.

The attack in Alexandria narrowly missed harming the Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, who was participating in Mass inside the church.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin condemned the attacks and offered his condolences to Sisi, according to Russia's state-run Tass.

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