"Islamic State" terrorists have claimed the twin suicide bombings that killed more than 40 people at Coptic Christian churches in Egypt. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi moved to declare a state of emergency.
At least 44 were killed and more than 100 injured in two bomb attacks on Coptic Christian Churches on Sunday. The blast at the seat of the Coptic Pope in Alexandria and another in the city of Tanta have been claimed by "Islamic State" (IS) militants.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared that a three-month state of emergency would be imposed, pending parliamentary approval.
"These acts will not harm the unity and cohesion of the people," said Pope Tawadros II, who was leading Palm Sunday mass at St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria when the suicide bomber detonated his explosives. The patriarch was unharmed, but 17 people were killed and 48 injured.
The bombing came a few hours after a similar suicide attack in at St. George church in Tanta, which claimed at least 17 lives and caused 78 injuries. A statement attributed to IS claimed responsibility for the violence, and promised more attacks on the ancient Christian community.
"There was blood all over the floor and scattered body parts," said one woman who was inside the church. Many other witnesses recalled similar stories of carnage .
"The attack...will only harden the determination (of Egyptians) to move forward on their trajectory to realize security, stability and comprehensive development," said President Sisi, who has sought to present himself as a bastion against terrorism despite hefty criticism of his political suppression. Sisi immediately ordered troops to both sites to assist police and emergency workers.
In a strongly-worded speech, the army chief-turned-president accused other countries of promoting instability in Egypt. Without naming any specific nation, he said "Egyptians have foiled plots and efforts by countries and fascist, terrorist organizations that tried to control Egypt."
Support poured in from abroad following the attack. Germany's top diplomat Sigmar Gabriel said that "the aim of the perpetrators, to drive a wedge between people of different faiths living peacefully side-by-side, must not be allowed to happen."
Pope Francis, who is set to visit Egypt later this month in a sign of solidarity with the country's embattled Coptic community, asked God to "convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death."
World leaders such as US President Donald Trump, French President Francois Hollande and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres slammed the attack and expressed their sympathy. In a joint statement, the nations of the UN Security Council called the attacks "heinous" and "cowardly."
Hamas, an Islamist militant group based in Gaza, on the border with Egypt, also took the unusual move of condemning the bombings.
"Hamas wishes safety, security, stability and prosperity for Egypt and its people," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, calling the violence at the churches "a crime."
A community targeted
The Coptic Church is one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, and its members make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population. Although Copts have lived alongside Egypt's Muslim majority for centuries, in recent years Christian churches have repeatedly been targeted by sectarian violence.
Last July, Pope Tawadros said that over a three year period, there had been 37 violent attacks on Copts, or about one incident a month. In December 2016, another bombing claimed by IS terrorists killed 30 people at the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo.
es/se (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)