At least 43 people were killed in bomb attacks on two Egyptian Coptic churches on Palm Sunday that included the seat of the Coptic Pope, the latest assault on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also injured more than 100 people and occurred a week before Coptic Easter, with Pope Francis scheduled to visit Egypt later this month.
The first bombing in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100km north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St. George Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.
The second, carried out a few hours later by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 16 people, including three police officers and injuring 41, the ministry added.
Coptic 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 Interior Ministry said.
“These acts will not harm the unity and cohesion of the people,” Tawadros said later, according to state media.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi condemned the attacks and summoned the National Defence Council to an urgent session.
Deflecting Western criticism that he has suppressed political opposition and human rights activists since he won election in 2014, Sisi has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the Middle East, and he identifies militant Islam as an existential threat. — Reuters.