ISIS claimed responsibility for bombings that killed 36 at two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday — brazen strikes against a vulnerable minority on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.
The first blast was in the northern city of Tanta, when a powerful explosion ripped through a Palm Sunday service at St George’s Church, killing 25 people and wounding 60 others, state TV reported.
The terror group’s Amaq media wing said “a security detachment” of the Islamic State carried out the attacks on churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria. The bombings also left scores wounded.
ISIS often uses Amaq news agency to claim attacks after they have happened.
The explosive device was planted under a seat in the main prayer hall, it said.
At least 11 people were killed and 35 others wounded in a suicide bomb attack outside Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, according to two state-news outlets.
Egyptian state media also reported that the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, was inside the Church when the blast happened. He was not injured.
In a statement, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi condemned the attacks, saying the “outrageous” action “targets both the Copts and Muslims of the homeland.” He ordered investigators to “hunt down the perpetrators” and “take all measures to offer the necessary care for the wounded.”
He has called an urgent meeting of his country’s National Defense Council.
“The attack will not undermine the resolve and true will of the Egyptian people to counter the forces of evil, but will only harden their determination to move forward on their trajectory to realize security, stability and comprehensive development,” the statement said..
The horrific attacks were the latest against Christians in the region, this time on Palm Sunday — the Sunday before Easter, and the day that marks the start of Holy Week for Christians.
Nile and Masriya TV, Egyptian state outlets, aired black banners in the upper left of its newscasts to signify mourning for the victims of both explosions.
News footage from Tanta shows people gathering at the church, singing hymns. The video then quickly switches to bars as harrowing screams and cries echo in the background.
“Everything is destroyed inside the church” and blood can be seen on marble pillars, said Peter Kamel, who saw the aftermath of the carnage.
It appeared the explosive device was placed near the altar, he said. Priests and the church choir were among the casualties.
In Alexandria, the Interior Ministry said in a statement that police assigned to St. Mark’s stopped a terrorist with an explosive belt from breaking into the church. Along with civilians, a policeman, a policewoman and other police staff were killed.
As we grieve the tragic & heartbreaking loss of Egyptian lives, it is still a failed attempt against our unity. #united_on_PalmSunday