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Egypt: Palm Sunday church bombings

St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria, where one of the Palm Sunday bomb blasts occurred.

Supplied Photo

(Staff) ON PALM SUNDAY, one of the most glorious  days in the Christian year, suicide bombers struck two Egyptian churches, killing 45 worshippers and injuring 126. The leader of an Islamic State affiliate in Egypt claimed responsibility.

Eyewitnesses inside St. George’s Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta said that during the service they saw a man charge towards the altar and detonate an explosive belt. A preliminary report determined that the bomb contained TNT, as well as large amounts of metallic screws and highly flammable substances.

Hours later another device exploded near the gates of Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, historic seat of the Coptic papacy. The incident occurred minutes after Pope Tawadros II left the church to follow the developments of the Tanta bombing. He escaped unharmed. The attack is now considered an assassination attempt on the Coptic leader.

An official church statement read: “With great pride, the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, the Church of Martyrs, bade her sons farewell, who were martyred today Sunday April 9, 2017, during the liturgy of Palm Sunday. They were carrying the palm leaves, praying and celebrating the commemoration of the entry of Christ, the King of Peace, to the city of Jerusalem. The souls of the martyrs have been slain by the hands of the enemies of humanity, the enemies of peace and the carrier of tools of destruction. But now, with all the Church, they are offering their prayers to the Just Judge who sees, hears and writes a book of remembrance.”

The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency across the country and promised that those wounded could receive medical care at military hospitals.

The head of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s leading centre for the study of Sunni Islam, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, denounced the deadly attacks, calling them a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.”

Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, The Council of Senior Scholars, condemned the church attacks, saying the bombings represented a “criminal act considered forbidden by Islamic consensus...these bombings have violated several tenets of Islam; from treachery to sin and aggression.”

However, the leader of an Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed to escalate attacks against Christians who make up ten percent of the population, and urged Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and western embassies. 

“Targeting the churches is part of our war on infidels,” the unidentified leader said in an interview published by the group’s al-Nabaa newsletter on May 4th

The group claimed not only responsibility for the Palm Sunday attacks but also for the December 11th bombing at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Cairo, which killed 29 people, mostly women and children, and injured 47 others.

The funerals for the Palm Sunday victims were led by Pope Tawadros in Alexandria, one of the principal seats of ancient Christianity where Christians have been worshipping since before Islam was founded.

When each coffin was brought into the cathedral, the congregation interrupted their sobs with thunderous applause.

“In Christian iconography the palm branch has become a symbol of martyrdom; martyred saints are often depicted carrying it,” observed Fr. Raymond de Souza writing in the National Post. “And so the Copts were, unwittingly, hailing the martyrs in their own midst.”

On Good Friday Pope Tawadros cancelled most festive Easter celebrations, limiting them to a simple Mass.

But that was not the end of the attacks. On Easter Tuesday ISIL killed one security guard and injured four others near St Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. The monastery, founded in the 6th century and located at the foot of Mount Sinai, is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is part of the Eastern Orthodox church.

Egyptian Christians are bracing for more attacks.   TAP


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