Islamic State attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt are not just anti-Christian but are 'part of concerted efforts to undermine the Egyptian state', according to a spokesman from SAT-7, the Christian satellite broadcasting organisation that works throughout the Middle East.
'Christians are an easily identifiable and vulnerable group who are seen by militant Islamists as supporting the state and churches are a soft target,' Lindsay Shaw told Christian Today.
The atrocities are the latest in a series directed against Egypt's Christians. On December 11, 2016, a suicide bomber entered the St Peter and Paul Church next to the Cairo Coptic Cathedral and killed some 30 worshippers.
From January 31, jihadists in North Sinai mounted a series of house-to-house and drive-by shootings in the coastal town of El-Arish after leafleting them with 24 hours' notice to leave or be killed. Seven people were murdered and hundreds of Christian families fled to other cities.
On February 17 an Egyptian affiliate of Islamic State released a video featuring the bomber who had died in the Cairo explosion, masked and vowing that 'we will come bearing explosives'.
Shaw said: 'Although Christians are being targeted, it appears to be part of a wider strategy to destabilise and undermine the Egyptian state. Lower-level attacks against Christians – especially in rural areas where they are ineffectively policed – have been an ongoing problem in Egypt. But Christians are now being selected as a soft and easily identifiable target.
'For the jihadists of Islamic State they are also seen as one group who have no place in their vision of a strictly Islamic society. Typically attacks designed to strike terror have taken place during major religious or national festivals. This is true of the car bombing of Al-Qeddesine Church in Alexandria as long ago as New Year 2011.
'Yesterday the bombers selected one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar in the knowledge that far larger numbers of worshippers – families included – would gather to mark the start of Holy Week. A further reason for the timing is probably the imminent visit of Pope Francis to Egypt from April 28-29.'
SAT-7 production crews visited both churches today and spoke with those affected by the events. It will broadcast a special programme tonight.
On a SAT-7 ARABIC Facebook page, the channel posted a series of messages including the following: 'Our hearts are crushed with pain because of the horrifying terrorist crimes at St George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta and St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria. We lift our eyes to the living God asking for consolation to all the families of the martyrs and healing for all the injured.'
SAT-7 founder and International Chief Executive, Dr Terence Ascott, referred to the 'sick and distorted ideologies that have possessed the minds of some, to the point where the act of killing innocent children and destroying the lives of as many others as possible can be seen as a service to God'.
He said: 'In the end, winning the battle for people's minds is the only way to stop such carnage. As a media organisation serving in this very troubled region, may God give us wisdom in what to say; and give our viewers the ears to hear and respond to his love for all people – yes, even those who, at this moment, may be rejoicing at the successful murder and maiming of yet more of our brothers and sisters in Egypt.'