Powerful explosions struck two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt's north, killing at least 43 people and injuring more than 100 others on Palm Sunday. The attacks were quickly claimed by ISIS.The attacks targeted Coptic Christian congregations in Egypt's second city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta at the beginning of Holy Week in the region.
Hours after the attacks, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered immediate deployment of his military to aid local police in guarding important buildings and facilities across the country.
They were rare alleged ISIS attacks outside of Egypt's volatile Sinai Delta, targeting civilians in the country's densely populated Nile Valley. While ISIS claims responsibility for nearly all acts of terror committed globally, their history of involvement and conflict in this region makes this claim more credible.
At least 27 people died and about 78 were injured during the first explosion at the St George's Coptic Church in Tanta, according to state media reports from the deputy minister of health.
A few hours later a second explosion outside St Mark's Coptic church in Alexandria left at least 13 people dead and at least 41 injured just as Pope Tawadros II finished services. His aides later told local media that he escaped unharmed.
Another video showed the moment when the alleged suicide bomber in Alexandria blew himself up. It came as he appeared to try to enter the church without passing the metal detector, triggering an explosion moments after a guard rebuffed him.
The attacks raised immediate concerns about the security of the country under the rule of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, an ally of US President Donald Trump, who issued a speedy message of condolence about the attacks in two hastily worded tweets Sunday:
"So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. U.S. strongly condemns. I have great…[sic]," Trump wrote in the first tweet, finishing with, "… [sic] confidence that President Al Sisi will handle situation properly."
Sunday's blasts were the latest of several targeted attacks by Islamist militants on Egypt's Coptic Christians, which make up roughly one tenth of the country's population of around 92 million.
Violent attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt has risen since 2013 when Egypt's armed forces overthrew the elected Islamist president.
News footage showed several Palm Sunday worshippers gathered at St George's church singing hymns before a sudden loud explosion followed by screams.
Provincial governor Ahmad Deif told the state-run Nile channel: "Either a bomb was planted or someone blew himself up." Police are searching for further explosives in the vicinity.
On Sunday morning Pope Francis, who is due to visit Egypt this month condemned the first attack after his Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter's Square.
"I pray for the dead and the victims," he said. "May the Lord convert the hearts of people who sow terror, violence and death and even the hearts of those who produce and traffic in weapons," he added.
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