ISIS has identified themselves as the culprits of the bombings this past Palm Sunday that killed 43 people at two Coptic churches in Egypt. These attacks targeted a very vulnerable minority one of the most significant days on the Christian calendar.
In a declaration divulged by ISIS on the Telegram messaging platform and spread by multiple supporters of the militant group, ISIS identified the suicide bombers as Egyptian nationals. Authorities in Egypt still have not confirmed the nationalities of the bombers.
In the same alarming statement, ISIS raised the concern of more strikes of the same nature in the impending future. The group stated, “The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God is willing.” Thus, the militant group once more attempted to identify itself as a heavily religious group, allegedly doing the work of God.
As a result of the bombing, a three-month state of emergency will be declared in the region as soon as legal and constitutional measures have been carries through, according to a statement released this Sunday by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The bombings took place the Sunday directly prior to Easter, symbolically the week that initiates the Holy Week for the Christians.
The first attack was launched on a Palm Sunday service, which took place at St. George’s Church in the northern city of Tanta. A state TV recounted that 27 people were killed and another 78 were wounded in the horrific event. An explosive decisive was placed under a seat in the central prayer hall of the church, according to this same report.
A news footage video from Tanta shows the church goers gathering and peacefully singing hymns, only to be interrupted by the screams and cries as the explosive was set off and havoc ensued among the civilian victims.
Witness of the aftermath, Peter Kamel, reveals that “everything is destroyed inside the church.” He continued on to describe how the marble pillars of the church were covered with blood. According to Kamel, the majority of the injured seem to be the priests and the members of the choir, likely due to the location where the explosive was planted within the church.
Soon after, at least 16 people were killed and another 41 were wounded in a suicide bombing which took place outside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, according to 2 state news channels.
The Interior Ministry reported that police officers who were stationed outside of the church impeded a man wearing an explosive belt from entering the church. It is estimated, as of now, that at least 2 police officers—a man and a woman—were killed, in addition to civilians and other police staff.
Maged Butter, Egyptian blogger, has said that he saw five or six ambulances and bloodstains roughly 100 meters away from the location of the explosion, which occurred near the gate of the church. He said he witnessed women yelling at the police for “not protecting them” as they cried and frantically searched for their loved ones. Butter went on to reveal that, “Every now and then, I see a person crying—I think they are Christina—and they keep saying: ‘Have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?’”
Consequently, the Egyptian President has designated 3 days of national mourning for the suicide bombings. Sisi also announced on a state TV on Sunday, following an emergency meeting of the country’s National Defense Council, that they plan to form a supreme council to counter terrorism and extremism.
Clearly shaken by the attack, Sisi declared, “We have to pay attention because of Egypt and Egypt’s future. We know this is a big sacrifice but we are capable of facing it.” He confidently added that, “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.”
Fadi Sami was informed of the Tanta bombing while he sat in the Alexandria cathedral on Sunday. The Palm Sunday prayers were being led by Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt’s Coptic Church.
Sami said the news of the Tanta attack wasn’t publically announced during the mass, but the sadness was evident in the pope’s voice. Sami left as the pope concluded the sermon and roughly 20 minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the church’s gate.
He recounts that upon returning to the smoke-covered area, “The stores around the churches were all destroyed. There were bodies and body parts everywhere, outside and inside the gate. I saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag.”
Although that area of downtown Alexandria is typically busier, it was quiet on Sunday as much of the population is Christian. Butter displayed relief for this saying, “Thank God it is a Sunday, and many shops are closed.” Thus, as horrific as it was, the damage could have been much worse.
Copts, which make up about 10% of Egypt’s population and stem their theology on the teaching of the apostle Mark, have faced increasing persecution and discrimination in Egypt since the 2011 collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Dozens have been murdered in sectarian violence, and an attack on a Coptic church in Cairo this past December resulted in the deaths of 25 people.
According to a report released by right group Amnesty International in March, Coptic churches and homes have been burned, followers of the Coptic theology have suffered physical aggression and their property has been looted.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attacks and displayed his sympathy to the victims and to the nation in a statement divulged by a spokesman. Spokesman, Stéphane Dujarraic, stated that Guterres “wishes a quick recovery to those injured and hopes that the perpetrators of this horrific terrorist act will be swiftly identified and brought to justice.”
The US State Department also displayed disapproval, deeming the bombings “barbaric attacks on Christian places of worship.” Acting spokesperson Mark Toner supported this by saying, “The United States will continue to support Egypt’s security and stability in its efforts to defeat terrorism.”
The bombing occurred in the days following Sisi’s warm reception by Trump in the U.S. capital, where the American president voiced his support for Egypt. The pair, unsurprisingly, expressed mutual concern for terrorism and ISIS. Furthermore, Sisi met with a US congressional delegation, led by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, on Saturday, where the main points of discussion included Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts and a plan to combat terrorism while promoting religious tolerance and acceptance of others.
Trump, per usual, turned to Twitter to condemn the Palm Sunday attacks, but also noted that he has “great confidence Sisi will handle the situation properly.” He also called Sisi from Air Force One to offer his condolences on Sunday, according to a senior administration official.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Cairo later this month, where he plans to meet with multiple religious leaders—among them, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Pope Francis has publically displayed his grief anteceding the attack.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also openly spoke out about the attacks, deeming them “evil” and asking people to pray for the victims. Russian President Vladimir Putin also condemned the bombings and offered his condolences to Sisi, according to Russia’s state-run Tass.
Featured Image via Wikimedia.