Egyptian authorities report that at least 44 people were killed and more than 100 people were injured in dual suicide bombing attacks against Egypt’s besieged Coptic Christian community. The explosions occurred as Christians joined together in prayer and celebration to commemorate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100 km (60 miles) north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St. George Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.
The second, carried out a few hours later by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers, and injuring 48, the ministry added.
Coptic Christians have long called Alexandria home. The vibrant city, named after the famed Macedonian leader, Alexander the Great, has seen Christian blood spilled for centuries.
Sunday’s attack triggered historical traumas not felt since the 7TH century Muslim conquest of Egypt. To say that Copts feel unwelcome in Egypt is a profound understatement. The oppressed religious minority fears wholesale genocide at the hands of theocracy-minded Islamist fanatics.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the barbaric attacks as jihadist propaganda channels celebrate the death of so-called “infidels.” The suicide bombings deliberately targeted Copts on Palm Sunday in a symbolic attack against one of the oldest religious communities in Egypt. The terror group’s religious extermination campaign against Christians in the Middle East is part and parcel of a wider crusade to establish a pure Salafist-Sunni state in the Levant.
“Although Copts have faced attacks by Muslim neighbors, who have burnt their homes and churches in poor rural areas in the past, the community has felt increasingly insecure since Islamic State spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014,” explains Reuters. “Islamic State’s branch in Egypt has stepped up attacks and threats against Christians, who comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people and are the biggest Christian minority in the Middle East.”
“The assault is the latest on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants, and a challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has pledged to protect them as part of his campaign against extremism,” adds Reuters.
A coordinated jihadist attack on Palm Sunday sends a chilling message to the Coptic community, given the religious significance of the holy day. Indeed, an Islamic terrorist struck St. Mark’s Cathedral as Coptic Pope Tawadros lead mass. He was not injured in the explosion, according to the Interior Ministry. Although, had the jihadists succeeded in killing the Coptic community’s most venerated cleric, it would have dealt a devastating blow to a people that have lived in fear for a number of years now.
Following the blasts, President al-Sisi vowed to seek justice against those responsible, ordering that troops be immediately to deployed to secure critical government sties.
Copts have weathered a barrage of Islamist attacks in recent months. The most recent large-scale attack occurred in mid-December when a 26-pound bomb exploded in Cairo’s main Coptic Christian Cathedral, killing 25 people and injuring 49 others. The cathedral was packed with parishioners at the time of the blast. Most of the victims were women and children.
Citing state media reports, The Wall Street Journal noted: “The blast went off on the women’s side of the worshiping hall in the small church of St. Peter and St. Paul, attached to the Coptic cathedral in the capital’s Abassyia district…”
Two months later, “scores of Christian families and students fled Egypt’s North Sinai province after a spate of targeted killings,” according to Reuters.
While Egypt’s Copts remain under threat of annihilation by radical Sunni groups, they have welcomed al-Sisi’s strongman tactics against Sunni extremists. The community knows full well that they dodged a bullet when Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammad Morsi was ousted from power through a military coup. Morsi’s reign would have likely emboldened the Brotherhood, providing Egypt’s underground Sunni extremist faction a license to wreak further havoc on the country’s beleaguered religious minorities.
Although al-Sisi believes he’s doing what’s necessary to rid the country, and the region for that matter, of the jihadist cancer, his extrajudicial measures against so-called political enemies has drawn international condemnation. For what it’s worth, most of the ire is stemming from the UN, an indelibly corrupt international body overrun by theocratic states and other bad actors.
And yet, there’s no way to whitewash al-Sisi’s iron-fisted rule; his security forces have been accused of carrying out summary executions with disturbing regularity.
The persecution of the centuries-old Coptic Christian community began in 639 A.D. after the Muslim conquest of Egypt.
Under the imperial control of the Rashidun caliphate, Christians suffered immensely as massacres were routine occurrences. The tentacles of violence, intimidation, forced conversions, and persecution wrapped around the Coptic community with unrelenting fervor until Egypt finally became a Muslim majority country at the end of the 14thcentury.
In 2015, the Copts are still struggling to survive, beleaguered by “separate but equal” legal doctrines; conversions to Christianity are prohibited, intermarriage is virulently discouraged, and Copts are often denied permits to build religious establishments. Worse, rape is institutionalized against Coptic women, as Sunni extremists, including elements within the Egyptian government, use sexual violence to intimidate the last remaining outposts of Coptic existence.
A bipartisan Congressional panel found that forced marriage to Muslim men, forced conversion to Islam, and sexual assault as government authorities turned a blind-eye, were not uncommon daily realities faced by many Coptic women. The findings reported that “physical and sexual violence, captivity…exploitation in forced domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation, and financial benefit to the individuals who secure the forced conversion of the victim” were among the horrors experienced by Coptic women living in the Sunni-Muslim majority country of Egypt.
For Egypt’s oppressed Copts, al-Sisi might as well be a godsend. Years of rape, torture, and brutality at the hands of Egypt’s Sunni majority have left the ailing religious sect on the verge of extinction.