Two lethal explosions hit Christian churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday, leaving more than 40 worshippers dead and injuring scores of others in a dual attack for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
The first of the bombs went off at St. George’s Church in Tanta, approximately 50 miles north of Cairo, in the middle of Mass. There, it was reported that at least 27 Coptic Christians had been killed by the blast. The second went off hours later at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, killing at least 13 people, including three police officers.
In a statement, ISIS-affiliated groups said, “A security detachment of the Islamic State carried out the attacks against the two churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.”
The timing of the blasts was considered significant for a number of reasons; One, clearly, it was meant as a symbolic strike the week before Easter. Two, it was likely meant to stall relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt – relations Pope Francis was hoping to facilitate in a trip to Egypt later this month.
After the first of the bombings, Francis said, “We pray for the victims of the attack carried out today in Cairo, in a Coptic church.”
In statements following the attacks, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo expressed outrage and sorrow.
“The U.S. Embassy condemns the heinous, reprehensible terrorist attack against peaceful worshippers at Saint George’s Church in Tanta on one of the holiest days of the Christian year,” the Embassy wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this horrific attack. We express our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and we wish the injured a speedy recovery. The United States stands firmly with the Egyptian government and people to defeat terrorism.”
Egypt has been a target of terrorism since the overthrow of the Islamist government in 2013, and ISIS affiliates have stepped up both their attacks and rhetoric against Muslims and Christians in the region. ISIS was blamed not only for previously-thwarted attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt, but also for the destruction of a Russian airliner in 2015, which went down over the Sinai Peninsula, killing 224 people and wreaking havoc on the Egyptian tourism industry.
ISIS wants their brand of extremism to gain a foothold of power across the Muslim Middle East, and these attacks prove that they will go to any lengths necessary to kill “infidels” and fight back any efforts at democracy or moderate religious practice. They know their power centers in Iraq and Syria are fading quickly, and now it’s a race to spread their venomous ideology far and wide before their destruction is complete.
Hopefully, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries will recognize the need to destroy this group before it’s too late.