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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Two Explosions That Killed at Least 45 Egyptian Christians

The blasts in the Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria targeted Coptic Christian churches during Palm Sunday celebrations.

Published April 9, 2017

 (AFP screen shot)
Image courtesy of AFP screen shot

Dozens of people were killed in bomb attacks on Coptic Christian churches in the Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria on 9 April 2017 as worshipers gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday. Egypt's state-run news agency Al-Ahram put the death toll at 45. A third site of worship, a mosque in Tanta, was also targeted, but authorities dismantled explosives before they detonated.

The terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks via its Aamaq news agency, after warning they would step up violence against Egypt's sizable Coptic Christian minority population, according to the Associated Press. The first attack struck St. George’s Church in Tanta, a Nile Delta city, around 9:30 a.m. local time. Local news initially reported an explosive device was planted under a seat inside the church.

Eyewitness Nabil Nader described to AFP the deadly scene inside the church, saying, "I saw pieces of body parts and broken seats. There was so much blood everywhere, some people had half of their bodies missing. The first three rows [inside the church] were destroyed":

As rescue crews were working to treat and evacuate the injured, a second explosion went off at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. Al-Ahram posted a video taken from the security camera at St. Mark's which shows a man with a blue sweater over his shoulders who is believed to be the suicide bomber. He walks past a security checkpoint and then is stopped, as he can be seen briefly stepping into a metal detector before the scene is enveloped smoke and flame:

Three police officers were killed in the St. Mark's blast and credited with saving lives by preventing the man from entering the building. Footage from the sites shows bloodied floors, walls and general chaos as medics struggled to take the wounded from the sites. Along with the dead, a total of 72 other people have been reported injured. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi ordered the armed forces to help police secure vital infrastructure throughout the country in response to the attacks while condolences flooded in from around the world.

Pope Francis, who was informed of the attacks during a Palm Sunday service at the Vatican, said in a hastily-prepared statement that "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." U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. U.S. strongly condemns. I have great confidence that President Al Sisi will handle situation properly." President Francois Hollande also issued a statement to declare, "One more time, Egypt is hit by terrorists who want to destroy its unity and its diversity."

The Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, with tradition holding there is a direct lineage dating back to 43 A.D. in Alexandria to Mark the Evangelist, believed to be the author of the Gospel According to Mark. St. Mark is considered the sect's founder. Copts are a significant minority in Egypt, making up roughly 10 percent of the population.

The attacks by ISIS against the community follow recently-escalating threats and violence against Egyptian Copts that had in recent weeks consisted of targeted killings of individuals. In December 2016, a bomb ripped through a Coptic cathedral in Cairo and killed 29 people.

The attack came two days after four people were killed in Stockholm, Sweden, in another terror-related incident. A 39-year-old Uzbek man who had been denied residency in 2014 and ordered to leave the country in 2016 has been arrested on suspicion of hijacking a truck and driving it into pedestrians on a busy shopping street in the city center.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.