Egyptian President Sisi Declares 3 Month State Of Emergency Following Church Bombings

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency in Egypt following twin church bombings that killed dozens of people in two cities on Sunday.Sisi announced the “state of emergency for three months” in a defiant speech at the presidential palace after a meeting of the national defence council.

The Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for the church bombings in the Nile Delta cities of Alexandria and Tanta in which at least 44 people were killed.

The attacks followed a Cairo church bombing in December and came weeks ahead of a planned visit by Catholic Pope Francis intended to show support for the country’s Christian minority.

At least 78 people were wounded in Tanta and another 40 wounded in Alexandria, the health ministry said.

Egyptian officials denounced the violence as an attempt to sow divisions in the country, while Francis sent his “deep condolences” to Tawadros.

IS claimed that its “squads” carried out both attacks, in a statement by its self-styled Amaq news agency published on social media accounts.

Images broadcast by private television stations showed bloodstains smearing the whitewashed walls of the church in Tanta next to shredded wooden benches.

“The explosion took place in the front rows, near the altar, during the mass,” General Tarek Atiya, the deputy to Egypt’s interior minister in charge of relations with the media, told AFP.

“I heard the blast and came running. I found people torn up… some people, only half of their bodies remained,” said Nabil Nader, who lives in front of the Tanta church.

The worshippers had been celebrating Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, marking the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem.

– String of attacks –

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also condemned the attack, stressing Egypt’s determination to “eliminate terrorism”.

The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, an influential Sunni Muslim authority, said it aimed to “destabilise security and… the unity of Egyptians”.

Egypt’s Copts have endured successive attacks since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.

More than 40 churches were attacked nationwide in the two weeks after the deadly dispersal by security forces of two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo on August 14, 2013, Human Rights Watch said.

Amnesty International later said more than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged, adding that at least four people were killed.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as then army chief helped remove Morsi, has defended his security forces and accused jihadists of attacking Copts in order to divide the country.

In October 2011, almost 30 people — mostly Coptic Christians — were killed after the army charged at a protest outside the state television building in Cairo to denounce the torching of a church in southern Egypt.

In May that year, clashes between Muslims and Copts left 15 dead in the working-class Cairo neighbourhood of Imbaba where two churches were attacked.

A few months earlier, the unclaimed bombing of a Coptic church killed more than 20 people in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria on New Year’s Day.

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Egypt Solidarity: After ISIS Church Bombings Outrage Muslims And Christians Alike

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) Egyptians of different faiths rallied together on Sunday in defiance of ISIS, after the group claimed responsibility for two Coptic Christian church bombings hundreds of miles apart. The attacks left at least 43 dead and dozens more injured, amid grim scenes of hollowed-out churches, with body parts and blood scattered among the debris.

Outraged Egyptians posted messages of solidarity with members of the embattled religious minority on social media, using a hashtag saying “your terrorism brings us together.”
Video posted on Facebook shows an angry crowd surrounding and beating Maj. Gen. Hussam Ad-Din Khalifa, director of security in Gharbiya Province where Tanta is located, when he tried inspecting the damage at St. George church. Shortly afterward, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi relieved Khalifa of his duties.
Sunday’s bombings came nearly four months after a suicide bomber killed 23 people in a Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo. Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s 91 million residents, have been the target of increased persecution and discrimination since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
Despite tensions between the groups, the country’s Muslim community has frequently shown support for Christians following acts of violence. Images on social media showed Muslims gathering inside mosques Sunday to donate blood for victims.
After a deadly Alexandria church bombing in 2011, Egyptian Muslims attended Coptic Christmas services in a show of solidarity.

‘Blood and body parts everywhere’

St. George’s Church in Tanta, a small city located between Cairo and Alexandria, had been the target of a bomb threat in March. That didn’t deter an estimated crowd of 2,000 congregants from attending Palm Sunday mass, the start of Holy Week before Easter.
The first bomb went off around 9:00 a.m. Church camera footage showed that the choir was in the middle of performing before the feed abruptly cut off.
Peter Kamel was about to leave home for mass when he learned about the explosion and rushed over to look for friends.

egypt church explosion palm sunday mass wedeman new day_00002102

 Source: CNN
“The bombing was so loud that even people who live far away could hear it,” Kamel told CNN. “Everything is destroyed inside the church.”
The bomb appeared to have exploded near the altar, striking choir members and priests, Kamel said.
On Facebook, Kamel posted scenes of the devastation inside the church:
A pair of sneakers laying among the debris.
Blood splashed on marble pillars, spattered across paintings and woven stalks of green palms.
The bodies of victims, many of them burned, among splintered pews.
Mina Abdel Malak said he was outside St. George’s during the explosion and rushed inside to look for his cousin.
“It was horrible; blood and body parts everywhere,” he said. “People on the other side of the street felt the explosion shaking their cars.”
He rushed to the hospital and saw the name of his cousin, a teacher with two young children, on a list of the deceased.
The previous bomb threat should have put authorities on notice, he said.
“This shouldn’t have happened. This is our feast and there was supposed to be strict security measures,” he said. “For someone to get this amount of explosives inside, then security wasn’t doing its job.”

‘Thank God it is a Sunday’

Fadi Sami heard about the Tanta bombing during mass at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. The church had drawn an especially big crowd because Pope of Alexandria Tawadros II was leading prayers.
The Pope did not mention the bombing but Sami said a feeling of uneasiness hung over the congregation. He said he left after the sermon, and 20 minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the church’s gate.
“It’s difficult to process this idea, that if I had left 20 minutes later, I would have stopped to exist in this world,” Sami, 26, told CNN.

Egyptians gather near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshipers.

The blast tore through nearby storefronts, he said. The area was enveloped in smoke as people rushed over to find bodies and body parts scattered among debris, he said.
“I saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag,” he said.
The death toll could well have been worse if it had been a weekday, Egyptian blogger Maged Butter said. Usually, this commercial part of downtown Alexandria is crowded with shoppers.
“Thank God it is a Sunday, and many shops are closed.”
He recorded video showing crowds filling the streets as emergency vehicles tried to pass.
“Every now and then, I see a person crying — I think they are Christian — and they keep saying: Have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?”

A violent act ‘against all of us’

As the protesters were gathering outside St. Mark’s on Sunday night, volunteers were searching for remains in a secured area nearby.
Meanwhile, Sisi gave a televised speech in which he declared a state of emergency and called for unity.
“What’s happening now is against all of us” — not just Copts, he said. “The main aim is to destroy the unity of our country, Egypt.”
“We will defeat terrorist groups, the killers and will continue fighting and building at the same time,” he said.