Egypt on edge as Christians bury dead from church attacks

by Abel Hampton April 11, 2017, 0:23

ALEXANDRIA/TANTA, Egypt, April 10 (Reuters) - Families of victims of Sunday's bombing at Alexandria's Coptic cathedral gathered at the Monastery of Saint Mina under heavy security on Monday as Egypt's cabinet approved a three-month state of emergency ahead of a scheduled trip by Pope Francis.

"Ever since Egyptian security forces cleared Sinai's northeastern Jabal al-Halal region of terrorists [in February], they have been able to focus their efforts on other parts of the volatile peninsula", Hammouda said.

CCTV footage showed the Alexandria bomber stopped by police trying to enter St. Mark's Cathedral, before he detonated his device. Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their ad limina visit at the Vatican Feb. 6, during which they also gave a report on the state of the Church in their country. The Copts, whose presence in Egypt dates to the Roman era, have long complained of religious persecution and accused the state of not doing enough to protect them.

The blasts came weeks before an expected visit by Pope Francis meant to show support for the country's Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's population and have long complained of being vulnerable and marginalised.

"The attack will not undermine the resolve and true will of the Egyptian people to counter the forces of evil", the President said in a statement.

Israel shut its Taba border crossing to Egypt after its anti-terrorism office warned of an "imminent" attack there.

Sunday's attacks, carried out by two suicide bombers, were the deadliest on the Egyptian Christian community for years.

Scores more were wounded in the latest in a string of jihadist-linked attacks on Egypt's Coptic community.

The twin attacks marked one of the bloodiest days in recent memory for Egypt's Christian minority, the largest in the Middle East. "Sunday was a major Coptic holiday - a security alert should have been issued".

Trump, according to the White House statement on the call, condemned the attacks and "expressed his confidence in Sissi's commitment to protect Christians and all Egyptians". The Pope has expressed condolences for those killed in the bombings.

He added: "The [terrorists'] second motive is to embarrass the regime on a global level by making it appear weak and unable to exert control over the country".

The Sinai-based IS affiliate has mainly attacked police and soldiers, but has also claimed bombings that killed civilians, including the downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai in 2015, which killed all 224 people on board and devastated Egypt's tourism industry.

Sunday's first bombing at the Mar Girgis church in Tanta city north of Cairo killed 28 people, the health ministry said.

Egypt's Christian minority wasn't targeted for the first time. Authorities, however, have not yet confirmed this information.

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, led by Pope Tawadros II, was - and remains - a vocal supporter of al-Sisi and the coup he spearheaded against Morsi.


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