Palm Sunday Bombing Attacks Kill Dozens
At least two bombs were detonated in Christian churches in Egypt as worshippers marked Palm Sunday, killing at least 37 people and wounding more than 100. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attack.
In the first attack, a bomb exploded at Saint George church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, killing at least 26 people and wounding over 70, the Associated Press reported. Then a bomb exploded at Saint Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, killing at least 11 people and wounding 35 just after Pope Tawadros II finished services, the AP reported.
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.
CBC TV showed footage from inside the church in Tanta, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. Regional Deputy Health Minister Mohammed Sharshar confirmed the toll.
Across the street, neighbor Susan Mikhail, whose apartment has a clear balcony view of the church and its front yard, said the explosion violently shook her building midmorning, at a time when the church was packed.
"Deacons were the first to run out of the church. Many of them had blood on their white robes," she told The Associated Press. Later, the more seriously wounded started to come out, carried in the arms of survivors and ferried to hospitals in private cars, she said.
Pope Francis decried the bombings, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation." Word of the attacks 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 center of learning in Sunni Islam - likewise condemned the attacks, calling them a "despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents."
Both Israel and the Islamic Hamas movement ruling neighboring Gaza also condemned the bombings.
The bombings add to fears that Islamic extremists who have long been battling security forces in the Sinai Peninsula are shifting 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.
ISIS has vowed to increase its attacks on Christians, who they believe are "infidels" deserving death. Egypt has suffered numerous Islamic attacks since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist president.