Cairo, April 9 (IANS) At least 33 people were killed and 77 injured in two separate bomb attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt as the Christian faithful observed Palm Sunday, one of the most important days on the religion’s calendar, according to Health Ministry officials and security sources.
The first explosion, which left 22 dead and 41 injured, ripped through a Palm Sunday service at Mar Girgis (St. George’s) Coptic church in Tanta, a city located 120 km from Egypt’s capital Cairo, EFE news reported.
The explosive device was planted under a seat in the church, where it detonated in the main prayer hall.
A short time later, a suicide bomb attack outside Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria killed 11 and injured 36 people, according to a Health Ministry statement.
The Islamic State terror organisation claimed responsibility for the bombings.
In a brief statement released through the IS’ semi-official news agency Amaq, the group claimed the attack had been launched by a “security unit belonging to the Islamic State”.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail condemned the attacks on private television channel On TV, adding that the government was determined to end terrorism in the country.
“This is an impious terrorist act, but we will eradicate terrorism from Egypt and we are determined to put an end to terrorist groups,” EFE news quoted Ismail as saying.
Copts, who make up around 15 per cent of Egypt’s population, were celebrating Palm Sunday, which marks the start of the Holy Week for Christians.
This attack comes 20 days before the visit of Pope Francis, who is set to travel to Egypt on April 28.
The Pope condemned the attack and publicly prayed for converting the hearts of those who “sow terror, violence and death”.
The pontiff was addressing the faithful during the traditional Palm Sunday mass at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City when he was notified of the attack.
He offered his condolences to the victims’ families, to those injured and to all Egyptians.
On December 11, 28 Coptic Christians were killed in a suicide bombing at a church in Cairo’s Abbassia district.
On that occasion, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.