Tuesday 26 September 2017

Everything you need to know about the Palm Sunday bombings in Egypt

By Zaina Alibhai

The attacks marked the single deadliest day for the country’s Christians in decades.

Egypt’s cabinet has approved a state of emergency called by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi after two suicide bombers attacked two Coptic churches during Palm Sunday services, killing at least 44 people.

Here’s everything we know so far about the attacks.

How did the attacks unfold?

The first bomb exploded at St George’s Church in the northern city of Tanta, leaving at least 27 people dead and 78 injured.

A few hours later, another suicide bomber rushed towards St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, killing at least 17 and wounding 48.

CCTV footage showed a man with a blue jumper draped over his shoulders approach the main gate to the Alexandria church, however he was directed towards a metal detector by a security guard.

The man then passed a female police officer – who was talking to another woman – and went through the detector before the explosion happened.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in Egypt. It’s based on the teachings of evangelist Saint Mark, who is believed to have brought Christianity to Egypt in the first century.

Has anybody claimed responsibility?

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, claiming two suicide bombers were behind them. The attacks have fuelled fears that the extremists may be shifting their focus to civilians – especially Egypt’s Christian minority.

The attacks came at the beginning of the week leading up to Easter, and just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit on April 28.

Pope Tawadros, the leader of the Coptic church, was in the Alexandria cathedral holding Palm Sunday services at the time of the bombing but was unhurt, the interior ministry said.

What happens now?

El-Sissi’s call for a three-month state of emergency has been approved by Egypt’s cabinet and will come into effect across the country on Monday at 1pm.

According to Egypt’s constitution, parliament must vote in favour of such a declaration before it is implemented.

The president has also sent troops across the country to protect vital buildings after the bombings.

Israel is also closing its Taba border crossing into Egypt after warning of an “imminent” militant attack there.

How have world leaders reacted?

President el-Sissi held an emergency meeting at the National Defence Council while saying the attacks would only strengthen the country against “evil forces”.

Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday in St Peter’s Square by expressing “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation”.

Donald Trump tweeted his condolences, saying he was “so sad to hear of the terrorist attack” but added that he had “great confidence” that el-Sissi “will handle the situation properly”.

Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar – the leading centre of learning in Sunni Islam – called the attacks a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents”.

Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement both condemned the bombings too.

Press Association

Editors Choice

Also in World News