17 sentenced to death over church bombings in Egypt

Relatives mourn those killed when a suicide bomber struck a Coptic church in Alexandria on Sunday.Reuters

A military court has sentenced 17 people to death for their part in deadly bomb attacks on churches in Egypt. 

The suicide attacks on churches in Alexandria and Tanta on Palm Sunday in 2017 killed 45 people. 

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings as well as another attack on St Mark's, Cairo, the seat of Coptic Pope Tawadros II, that killed 28 people in December 2016. 

An additional 19 people were given life sentences for their involvement in the attacks.  The sentences are subject to appeal. 

Egypt's Christians have been repeatedly targeted by militants.  Earlier this year, security forces thwarted an attempted suicide bomb attack on a church in Qalyubiyah, a governorate north of Cairo. 

The suicide attacker was prevented by security forces from getting near the church and detonated his vest around 250 metres from the church, killing only himself. 

In May 2017, over 30 Christians were killed by gunmen while travelling to a monastery.  They were shot dead after refusing to convert to Islam. 

Egypt has struggled to contain the Islamic State since President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was overthrown by the military in 2013. 

The country is currently ranked number 17 in the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian. 

Although persecution already existed in Egypt, Open Doors said the ousting of Morsi only caused radical groups to become even more violent towards Christians and that this has been compounded by the state's 'low regard' for religious freedom and other fundamental rights.

'In a country where 90 percent of the population is Muslim, Egyptian Christians have been treated as second-class citizens since the advent of Islam in the region,' Open Doors says.

'The rise of radical Islamist groups has only exacerbated Egyptian Christian persecution, affecting believers in their villages, neighborhoods, and workplaces.'