As they buried the bodies of loved ones killed in twin church bombings, Egyptian Christians were enraged at a government that they believe will no longer protect them and their churches.
At least 44 people were killed and another 126 were wounded in the attacks in northern Egypt on Palm Sunday, according to The Associated Press. What was supposed to be joyous services marking the start of a holy week leading into Easter quickly turned into scenes of horror and outrage.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings at two Coptic churches in the northern cities Tanta and Alexandria, which happened just hours apart. The Islamic militant group also vowed to continue carrying out attacks against Christians.
Robert Nicholson, founder of the Philos Project, a New York-based organization that promotes “positive Christian engagement in the Middle East,” said Sunday’s bombings “are a disturbing sign of escalating violence against the Coptic Christians of Egypt,” and that U.S. President Donald Trump should use this as an occasion to construct a clear policy on protecting minorities in the Middle East.
“ISIS militants are establishing foothold in Sini, imposing Sharia law and frequently attacking the Christian community,” Nicholson said in a statement. “The Trump administration must consider this growing threat as it develops a grand strategy for the region. Meanwhile, let us pray for peace, restored health and justice.”
Copts, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, make up 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people. Still, the community feels increasingly ostracized and has repeatedly been targeted in attacks, including ones carried out by ISIS, according to Reuters.
In the Nile Delta city of Tanta, a crowd of grieving families became furious as they tried to get inside a hospital morgue to recover the bodies of their loved ones. Egyptian security forces held them back to prevent overcrowding.
“Why are you preventing us from entering now? Where were you when all this happened?” one woman looking for a relative shouted at authorities, according to Reuters.
Some wailed in mourning while others appeared in total shock.
Kerols Paheg and other young Coptic Christians began digging graves in the basement of St. George Church in Tanta just hours after the first of the bombs exploded there on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar. Blood stained the overturned pews and shattered glass covered the floor of the devastated church.
“Today was supposed to be a day of festivity,” Paheg told Reuters.
Paheg said Christians must now protect their churches themselves rather than rely on authorities, “because what’s happening is too much. It’s unacceptable.”
Copts in Tanta also told Reuters that security was practically non-existent on Sunday.
Tanta’s regional police chief Brig. Gen. Hossam Elddin Khalifa was fired over the bombing, with Maj. Gen. Tarek Hassouna replacing him, state-run newspaper al-Ahram reported.
Sunday’s attacks led Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to call for a three-month state of emergency. He said in a statement that the violence would only strengthen Egypt’s resolve against “evil forces,” according to The Associated Press.
El-Sissi held an emergency meeting of the National Defense Council, which includes Egypt’s prime minister, the defense and interior ministers, the speaker of parliament as well as top army commanders and security chiefs.
Egypt’s interior ministry said Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic church who will meet with Pope Francis during his visit to Egypt later this month, was in St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria at the time of the bombing but was not hurt.
The Egyptian health ministry said six Muslims were among those killed in Alexandra, the historic seat of the Coptic pope, according to The Associated Press.
(H/T The Associated Press, Reuters)
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