At least 18 people were killed and 40 were wounded by a blast in front of a Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt on Palm Sunday, according to local reports, hours after at least 30 people were killed by a blast in the Nile Delta city of Tanta.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks, via its Amaq press agency. “A group that belongs to Islamic State carried out the two attacks on the churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria,” Amaq said.
The Alexandria attack, which hit the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, was carried out by a suicide bomber, Egypt’s Health Ministry said, adding that three police officers were killed in the attack.
— Rudaw English (@RudawEnglish) April 9, 2017
The Coptic Pope had been leading the ceremony, but reportedly left the church before the blast occurred.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement in wake of the attacks, saying that, “Israel sends condolences to the families of those murdered in the attack in Egypt and wishes for recovery for the injured. The world must unite and fight terrorism everywhere.”
The attacks were the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population of 92 million and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt.
Following the attacks, the pontiff expressed his “deep condolences” to the Coptic patriarch, Tawadros II, calling him “my brother,” to the Coptic church and “all of the dear Egyptian nation,” and said he was praying for the dead and injured in the attack that occurred just hours earlier as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square.
The pontiff asked God “to convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons.”
The pope’s remarks on the church attack were handed to him on a piece of paper after he remembered the victims of the Stockholm attack Friday night.
CBC showed footage from inside the church in Tanta, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.
“There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe.
I saw the intestines of those injured and legs severed entirely from their bodies,” Vivian Fareeg told Reuters by phone.
A militant group called Liwa al-Thawra claimed responsibility for an April 1 bomb attack targeting a police training center in Tanta, which wounded 16 people.
The group, believed to be linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has mainly targeted security forces and distanced itself from attacks on Christians.
In December, 25 were killed by a suicide bombing at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the blast.
Egypt has seen a spate of attacks since 2013, when the army deposed Egypt’s former Islamist President Mohammad Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader, following mass protests against his divisive rule.
Christians backed Morsi’s toppling by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Egypt’s current president.