CAIRO -- Bombs exploded at two Coptic churches in different cities in northern Egypt as worshippers were celebrating Palm Sunday, killing at least 43 people and wounding about 100 in an assault claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The blasts came at the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter, and just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit the Arab world’s most populous country, which has been beset by extremist violence against its minority Christians.
In the first attack, a bomb went off inside St. George’s Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, killing at least 27 people and wounding 78, officials said. A few hours later, a suicide bomber rushed toward St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, killing at least 16 people and wounding 41, the Interior Ministry said.
CCTV images broadcast on Egyptian channels showed a man in a blue pullover approach the main gate to St. Mark’s but being turned away and directed toward a metal detector. The man then passes a female police officer chatting to another woman, and enters a metal detector before an explosion engulfs the area.
Pope Tawadros II had held Palm Sunday services at the cathedral, but his aides said he had escaped unharmed. The timing of the attack raised the question of whether the bomber had sought to assassinate the pope, leader of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
ISIS claimed the attacks via its Amaq news agency, after having recently warned that it would step up violence against Egypt’s Christians.
“So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt,” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday, adding that he is confident that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will “handle” the situation properly.
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