Two Coptic Christian churches were targeted by a bomb attack on Palm Sunday.
The patriarch of the Egyptian Coptic church, Pope Tawadros II, was presiding over mass in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at the entrance, killing 17 and injuring 48.
The other attack took place inside a church in the city of Tanta, where the bomber made his way into the church as services took place and blew himself up inside near the altar, killing 27 and injuring 78.
The Alexandria bomber was unable to slip by security measures and detonated his bomb outside St. Mark’s Cathedral. In Tanta, however, the bomber managed to slip past security guards and metal detectors, and entered enter the church.
These attacks are two of the most violent against Christians in Egypt in the past few decades. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi declared a three-day state of emergency following the attacks.
President Sisi, who had returned from a trip to the U.S. where he met with President Trump, responded to the incident by deploying troops to protect Christian Churches across Egypt in anticipation of both the Christian Holy Week and Pope Francis’ planned visit to Egypt in a few weeks. Both President Trump and Pope Francis have condemned the attacks.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. The terror group stated in December that they would be stepping up attacks on Christians. President Sisi is notable for his popularity among Egypt’s Christian minority, coming into power in 2013 following the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
President Sisi pledged to protect Christians as one of his top priorities. However, his efforts seem to have been unable to prevent these recent attacks. Attacks on Christians in Egypt have been on the rise. A December bombing of a Cairo Coptic Cathedral, which ISIS claimed responsibility for, left 25 dead and 49 injured.
More recently, hundreds of Christians were forced to flee Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula amid escalating attacks by militant Islamic groups. Following the attack in Tanta, both Christians and Muslims gathered together outside the church to denounce the government for its inability to prevent these attacks.
Pope Francis insists on keeping his plan to visit Egypt. Egypt’s Catholic Archbishop Emmanuel told journalists that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit was intended to show Christians that Egypt is safe. Pope Francis plans to meet with both President Sisi and Egypt’s Grand Imam of Al-Ahzar in a move to improve Christian-Muslim relations.
Authorities are still confused as to how the bomber managed to enter the church in Tanta. Security appeared very tight, authorities even sealed the main door to prevent such an attack.
A New York Times article explained that anti-government sentiment is exactly the result ISIS wanted from the attack, citing the attacks as ISIS’ divide-and-conquer strategy against Egypt.
Egypt has held up a strong front against Radical Islamists. Sisi is already well-known for his autocratic tendencies. Egyptians have been under a state of emergency for 44 of the past 50 years, and anti-government sentiment has been simmering in recent years. With Christians, Sisi’s biggest supporters now criticizing him, ISIS claims this action as a victory.