Attacks on 2 Christian churches in Egypt kill 43; Islamic State claims responsibility

By By Makarios Nassar, Omar Medhat and Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

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Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombing Egyptian Coptic Christian churches in two cities Sunday, killing at least 43 people and injuring more than 100.

The claim was published by the militant group’s Amaq news agency after the attacks, which targeted large crowds gathered for Palm Sunday.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared a three-month state of emergency in the country, where there has already been a major crackdown on dissent and political expression.

The second explosion occurred Sunday afternoon at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, where the Coptic Pope Tawadros II had earlier celebrated Palm Sunday. It killed 16 people and wounded at least 47 others, according to Sharif Wadih, an aide to the country’s health minister.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry said the blast was caused by a suicide bomber who tried to storm the entrance before being stopped by police. The ministry said three police were among those killed.

Earlier, a bomb at Saint George’s Church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta killed 27 people and wounded 78, Wadih said.

“I was inside the church at that time and suddenly, the church was bombed,” said Makaram Kamal Rateb, describing the attack in Tanta. “There were bodies and blood everywhere.”
Rateb, who worships at the church, said there was no security to protect churchgoers from the attacker, who died in the bombing.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 85 million, and are especially visible on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, when they tote palms in the streets. They have repeatedly been targeted by Islamist extremists in recent years. Last week, local media reported another bomb was found at St. George’s church and defused.

The Coptic Church is the dominant Christian denomination in Egypt, where it is said to have been established in the first century by the Apostle Mark.

The bombings occurred weeks before a scheduled visit to Egypt by Pope Francis, raising questions about security for that trip.

Police were stationed at St. George’s church after the attack, emptying the building and clearing the scene to investigate as mourners stood outside, growing increasingly upset about what they viewed as lax security that allowed the attacks.

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