Egypt declares state of emergency after twin church bombings

Terrorism | The Palm Sunday attacks killed at least 44 people and injured more than 100 others
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/10/17, 10:14 am

Egypt’s president declared a three-month state of emergency after an Islamic State affiliate bombed two Coptic churches on Sunday, killing at least 44 people. 

The attacks, among the deadliest against the minority Christian community, happened on Palm Sunday as the Coptic Church marked the start of Holy Week leading into Easter. 

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the nationwide state of emergency would come into effect once the legal steps are completed. He also announced the formation of the Supreme Council to Combat Terrorism and Extremism and said the country would observe three days of national mourning.

“I won’t say those who fell are Christian or Muslim,” Sisi said in a Sunday night televised address. “I would say that they’re Egyptian.”

The first bomb exploded inside St. George Church in the city of Tanta. The explosion killed at least 27 people and injured another 78, the state’s health ministry said. Pictures and videos from the scene show bloodstained pews, some toppled over. Security officials had on March 29 diffused another bomb planted in the church. 

Emil Edward Salib, who survived the attack, told The New York Times the bombing happened at a little past 9 a.m. 

“I was sitting in front and all of a sudden everything went dark,” Salib said as he lay down with a bandage over his head. “A few seconds later, I got up and saw bodies all around me.”

The second attack hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the seat of the Coptic pope, just a few hours later. A suicide bomber set off the explosives in front of the church, killing about 17 people and wounding 41 others. Pope Tawadros II, who was celebrating Mass at the church, survived the attack.

Footage from two security cameras broadcast on Egyptian television stations showed a man with a blue sweater tied around his neck trying to enter the cathedral. A security official directed him to a metal detector. The man entered the metal detector and took a step back, triggering the explosion.

Egyptian officials acknowledged community-wide anger over a lack of security measures during such an important time for the country’s Christians.

“I’m here in the hospital and people are angry at me, angry at every official in this country,” Haitham al Hariri, a member of parliament with Egypt’s Socialist Popular Alliance, told the Guardian. “Families are disappointed, frustrated, and angry at everyone with no exception, from the head to the lowest in the state.”

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the two attacks and threatened more. In December, the group staged a similar attack on a chapel adjoining St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, killing about 30 people. The terror group this year increased attacks on Coptic Christians in the country’s Sinai Peninsula, prompting hundreds of people to flee the region. Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate warned of heightened attacks against the country’s Christians in a video released in February.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter the United States “strongly condemns the terrorist attack,” adding he has great confidence al-Sisi will handle the situation properly. Egyptians called for a stronger, more unified response to extremist terror groups.

“How much longer are we going to be divided?” Wahby Lamie asked Reuters. “Anyone who’s different from them now is an infidel, whether they’re Muslim or Christian.”

Al Azhar, the leading Sunni Muslim mosque and university, called the attack an “outrageous crime.”

“The terrorist attack is devoid of all the principles of humanity and civilization,” the group said in a statement. “The aim of this attack is to destabilize the security and stability of our dear Egypt and the unity of the Egyptian people.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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