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 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.
CNN could not independently confirm that ISIS was behind the attacks — or had any involvement in planning them. ISIS often uses Amaq news agency to claim attacks after they have happened.
Egyptian blogger Maged Butter told CNN he saw five or six ambulances and blood stains 100 meters away from the site of the explosion — which happened near the church gate.
He said women were crying and looking for their loved ones and were yelling at police for “not protecting” them.
“Every now and then, I see a person crying — I think they are Christian — and they keep saying: ‘have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?’ ” Butter said.
Alexandria sits on the Mediterranean and has a large Christian population. Downtown is usually busy but was relatively quiet on Sunday because of the holiday. “This is usually a very busy area, but thank God it is a Sunday, and many shops are closed,” he said.
Copts have faced persecution and discrimination that has spiked since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
Dozens have been killed in sectarian clashes. In December, an attack at a Coptic church in Cairo killed 25 people.
coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 91 million. They base their theology on the teachings of the Apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt.
Tanta is roughly 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Cairo, in the Nile delta.
The attack comes days after President Donald Trump welcomed el-Sisi to Washington and stressed his support for Cairo. Among the topics of mutual concern were terrorism and terror group ISIS.
El-Sisi met Saturday with a US congressional delegation led by US Rep. Darrell Issa, the Egyptian government said.
The meeting addressed Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts and adopting a strategy to fight terror and encourage religious tolerance and acceptance of others.
The Tanta attack drew condemnation from religious and political leaders across the globe.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Cairo this month, where he will meet with various religious leaders, including the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He expressed his grief following the church attack.
“To my dear brother his Holiness Pope Tawadros II, to the Coptic church and to all of the dear country Egypt, I express my deep condolences, I prayed for the dead and the wounded, I am close to the families and to the entire community. God convert the hearts of the people who spread terror, violence and dead, and also the heart of who produces and traffic weapons,” the Pope said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called the attacks “evil” and urged people to pray for the victims.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack and offered his condolences to el-Sisi, according to Russia’s state-run Tass. ( CNN / IM )
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