Sunday, April 9, 2017
Egypt: Bomb attacks on churches kill at least 44, Sisi orders state of emergency
Updated. At least 44 people were killed in Egypt in bomb attacks at the cathedral of the Coptic Pope and a church in Tanta on Palm Sunday, and more than 100 people were injured. Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al Sissi ordered troop deployments and declared a three-month state of emergency.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred a week before Coptic Easter, with Pope Francis scheduled to visit Egypt later this month.
The assault is the latest on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants, and a challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100 km north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St. George (Mar Girgis) Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.
The second, a few hours later in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark's Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers who tried to stop the attacker from entering the cathedral, and injuring 48, the ministry added.
Coptic Pope Tawadros had been leading the mass at Saint Mark's Cathedral at the time of the explosion but was not injured, the Interior Ministry said.
Islamic State said two of its fighters wearing suicide vests carried out the attacks, and it warned of more to come. "Crusaders and their apostate allies should know the bill between us and them is very big and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, God willing. Wait for us, for we will wait for you," the group said in a statement.
In a televised speech addressing the nation, Sisi declared a three-month countrywide state of emergency, subject to parliamentary approval, and called for national unity and urged the media to refrain from coverage that could be harmful. "Deal with the issue with credibility, and responsibility and awareness," he said of the media coverage. "It's not right what I'm seeing being repeated on all of our channels, and you know this hurts Egyptians.
Sisi also ordered troops be immediately deployed to assist police in securing vital facilities.Deflecting Western criticism that he has suppressed political opposition and human rights activists since he was elected in 2014, Sisi has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the Middle East. "The attack...will only harden the determination (of the Egyptian people) to move forward on their trajectory to realise security, stability and comprehensive development," Sisi said in a statement.
President Trump, who hosted Sisi last week in his first official visit to the U.S., expressed support for a leader he has said he plans to work more closely with on fighting Islamist militants, who Sisi identifies as an existential threat. "So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. U.S. strongly condemns. I have great confidence that President Al Sisi will handle situation properly," Trump wrote on his official Twitter account.