Egypt has declared a three-month state of emergency and ordered the military special forces to protect key infrastructure after the Islamic State group triggered powerful bombs at two minority Coptic Christian churches, killing at least 45 people. The deadliest attacks on Coptic Christians in recent times on Palm Sunday, forced President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to make a brief appearance on television last night, when he announced the state of emergency for three months.
Sisi must present the emergency declaration to parliament within a week. Before the announcement, he had called a National Defence Council. Sisi said a top-level council for fighting terrorism and extremism will also be established. The government in its initial response ordered the military special forces to assist police in securing vital state facilities across the country. The security forces have been put on alert in anticipation of more attacks, the Egyptian media reported.
The Islamic State group claimed the bombings at two churches in Tanta and Alexandria cities as worshippers observed the Palm Sunday. The death toll climbed to 45 today after person injured in bombing in Tanta died. More than 100 people remained injured, according to Egyptian authorities. The first blast took place in the Coptic church of Mar Girgis, also known as St George, in the Nile delta city of Tanta, about 120 kilometres from Cairo, and killed 27 people and injured 78, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry.
Hours later, a suicide bomber struck the Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria’s Manshyia district. Citing Health Minister Ahmed Emad, ON TV news channel reported at least 18 people, including police personnel, were killed and 41 injured in the suicide attack in Alexandria. The blasts have come ahead of the visit of Pope Francis to Egypt on April 28-29, and prompted international condemnation.
Al-Azhar, the world’s highest seat of Sunni Islam, called the attacks an “outrageous crime” against all Egyptians. “This terrorist attack is devoid of all the principles of humanity and civilisation,” it said in a statement. The US Embassy in Egypt condemned “the heinous, reprehensible terrorist attack against peaceful worshippers.”
“The US stands firmly with the Egyptian government and people to defeat terrorism,” the Embassy said in a statement. Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population of 85 million. Egypt’s Christian minority has often been targeted by Islamist militants. In December, a suicide bombing claimed by an IS affiliate killed 29 people during Sunday mass in Cairo.
Egypt has seen a wave of attacks by militants since 2013 when the military toppled president Mohammed Morsi, an elected leader who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, and launched a crackdown against Islamists. Palm Sunday falls on the Sunday before the Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.