ISIS' Palm Sunday bombings of Egypt churches kill 44, state of emergency declared

Relatives of victims react in front of a Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt. Two bombings have killed at least 44 people.Reuters

At least 44 people were killed and over 100 injured in Palm Sunday bombings on two Coptic churches in Egypt. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Egypt's president has declared a national state of emergency.

The first bombing, yesterday morning in Tanta, a Nile Delta city less than 60 miles north of Cairo, killed at least 27 and injured at least 78, according to Egypt's ministry of health.

Just hours later a second bombing took place from a suicide bomber in Alexandria, at St Mark's Cathedral, the historic seat of Coptic Pope Tawadros II. The blast killed 17, including three police officers, and injured 48. The Coptic Pope was unharmed.

ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the two suicide bombings.

'Crusaders and their apostate allies should know the bill between us and them is very big and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, God willing. Wait for us, for we will wait for you,' the jihadist group said in a statement.

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Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month nationwide state of emergency following the attacks. In a televised speech addressing the country, he called for unity, and for responsible media coverage of the attacks.

'Deal with the issue with credibility and responsibility and awareness. It's not right what I'm seeing being repeated on all of our channels, and you know this hurts Egyptians,' he said.

He ordered the immediate deployment of military troops to assist police in its security measures.

In a statement he added: 'The attack...will only harden the determination [of the Egyptian people] to move forward on their trajectory to realise security, stability and comprehensive development.'

Pope Tawadros said: 'These acts will not harm the unity and cohesion of the people.'

Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Coptic Church in the UK condemned the attacks and offered their condolences, with the latter promoting the hashtag #PrayForTanta.

President Trump, who hosted Sisi last week in the US, expressed sympathy and support for the president. He wrote on Twitter: 'So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. US strongly condemns. I have great confidence that President Al Sisi will handle situation properly.'

Hundreds gathered outside the Tanta church shortly after the first bombing, many weeping at the loss of friends and relatives caught in the Palm Sunday service blasts. 

The aftermath of yesterday's bombing in a Coptic church in Tanta, Egypt.Reuters

'There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered,' said one woman who was inside the church at the time of the explosion. Another woman described 'extremely severe' injuries.

In December, ISIS claimed responsibility for a Cairo Coptic church bombing that killed 27. In February, the jihadist group released a video inciting violence against the 'infidel' Christian faith community. At least seven individuals have been murdered by militants in northern Egypt since January 30, with victims being burned alive, stabbed in their sleep and shot in the street.

Hundreds fled the coastal city of El-Arish, Sinai in late February following an increasing terror threat from ISIS against the Coptic Christian community. Bishop Angaelos, the head of the Coptic church in the UK, said Copts in the area were essentially told to 'leave or die'. Most of the displaced people found refuge in the governate of Ismailia, given ad hoc shelter and provisions courtesy of churches and other groups in the area.

Egypt's Christians – mostly Orthodox Copts – represent about 10 per cent of the country's majority Muslim population.

Bishop Angaelos said in a statement yesterday following the attacks: 'We pray for His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and all our Coptic clergy in Egypt who continue to serve their spiritual children faithfully and diligently at a time in which their leadership and pastoral care is needed by our whole community.

'We also pray for our Coptic Orthodox sisters and brothers who continue to be resilient in the face of ongoing and escalating attacks, and who resist the urge to react vengefully or reciprocally.

'As we celebrate Palm Sunday today and Christ's entry into Jerusalem, we now also mark the entry of those who have passed today into the heavenly Jerusalem. As we continue into the Holy Week of our Saviour, we share in the pain and heartbreak of their families and of all those affected by today's incidents.

'As we celebrate the Feast of the glorious Resurrection at the end of this week, we are reminded that our life here on earth is a journey often filled with pain, at the end of which is a promised glorious and eternal life void of such suffering and evil.' 

Additional reporting by Reuters

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