Egypt declares state of emergency after IS group church attacks
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Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declared a state of emergency after two deadly bombings Sunday, the first at a church north of Cairo, the second hours later outside a church in Alexandria, that were claimed by the Islamic State group.
"Islamic State squads carried out the attacks on two churches in Tanta and Alexandria," said the group's self-styled Amaq news agency in a statement published on social media accounts.
The twin Palm Sunday bombings have so far killed more than 40 and wounded around 100 people.
In the first attack, a bomb went off at Saint George’s church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, leaving at least 27 dead and wounding at least 78, officials said.
At least 16 people were killed, and more than 40 wounded in Sunday’s second explosion, when a suicide bomber tried to storm Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, where Coptic Pope Tawadros II was leading a Palm Sunday service. Tawadros had left the church before the blast, a Coptic church official said.
President Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency on Sunday night after he had earlier ordered the deployment of the military in the aftermath of the attacks.
"A series of steps will be taken, most importantly, the announcement of a state of emergency for three months after legal and constitution steps are taken," Sisi said in a speech aired on state television.
The twin attacks were the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt's Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit the country.
CBC TV showed footage from inside the church, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed confirmed the toll from the attack in interviews with local and state-run media.
FRANCE 24’s Cairo correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous said that the “anger amongst [Egypt’s] Christian community is palpable”.
“There’s a video of worshippers beating a police colonel in Tanta because they’re so angry about the police and security forces being unable to prevent these attacks,” said Kouddous. “This is an ongoing problem and the Islamic State group has pledged to continue these attacks and so we’ll have to see what security measures can be taken to try to prevent them.”
Speaking to FRANCE 24 after the bombings, political analyst Joe Macaron of the Arab Center in Washington, DC said that it was imperative for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to find a way to "focus more resources on fighting terrorism" rather than continuing to impose his "repressive" rule on society.
Attacks condemned around the world
Pope Francis decried the bombing, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation". Word of the bombing came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square.
Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar - the leading centre of learning in Sunni Islam - likewise condemned the attack, calling it a "despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents".
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, saying in a statement Sunday that "the aim of the perpetrators, to drive a wedge between people of different faiths living peacefully side-by-side, mustn't be allowed to happen".
A spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas rulers also condemned the church bombings. Fawzi Barhoum said: "Hamas wishes safety, security, stability and prosperity for Egypt and its people."
The attack adds to fears that Islamic extremists who have long been battling security forces in the Sinai Peninsula may shift their focus to civilians.
An Islamic State affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a Cairo church in December that killed around 30 people, mostly women, as well as a string of killings in the restive northern Sinai that caused hundreds of Christians to flee to safer areas of the country.
The group recently released a video vowing to step up attacks against Christians, who it describes as "infidels" empowering the West against Muslims.
A militant group called Liwa al-Thawra claimed responsibility for an April 1 bomb attack targeting a police training centre in Tanta, which wounded 16 people. The group, believed to be linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has mainly targeted security forces and distanced itself from attacks on Christians.
Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist president.
The Sinai-based IS affiliate has mainly attacked police and soldiers, but has also claimed bombings that killed civilians, including the downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai in 2015, which killed all 224 people on board and devastated Egypt's tourism industry.
Egypt's Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, accounting for around 10 percent of Egypt's 92 million people and have long complained of discrimination.
The Copts were largely supportive of the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, a senior Brotherhood figure, and incurred the wrath of many Islamists, who attacked churches and other Christian institutions after his ouster.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS, AFP)