Tearful Chris­tians mourn blast vic­tims

An­gry sur­vivors ac­cuse Egypt author­i­ties of se­cu­rity lapses

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Mourn­ers packed an Egyp­tian church yes­ter­day for a fu­neral ser­vice for 24 peo­ple killed in the bomb­ing of Cairo’s main Cop­tic cathe­dral, while an­gry sur­vivors ac­cused author­i­ties of se­cu­rity lapses. Tearful Chris­tians gath­ered at the Vir­gin Mary and St Athana­sius Church in Cairo where Cop­tic Pope Tawadros II prayed over the wooden coffins of the vic­tims of Sun­day’s bomb­ing, one the dead­li­est at­tacks on the Chris­tian mi­nor­ity in re­cent mem­ory. On the walls hung ban­ners bear­ing the names of the dead, many of them women. Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple gath­ered in the Mad­i­nat Nasr area fu­ri­ous at be­ing de­nied en­try to the church, where ad­mit­tance was by in­vi­ta­tion only for the fam­i­lies of vic­tims.

There was also anger at hos­pi­tals treat­ing the wounded. Five sur­vivors at Dar Al-Shefa hospi­tal said po­lice did not con­duct the usual checks as the cathe­dral was par­tic­u­larly busy for Sun­day’s mass. “There were large num­bers so peo­ple en­tered with­out be­ing searched,” said Mina Fran­cis, who was in the cathe­dral with his mother who was killed in the blast. At least 24 peo­ple died and 49 were wounded when a bomb ex­ploded in a chapel ad­join­ing St Mark’s Cathe­dral, Cairo’s largest church and seat of the pope.

Se­cu­rity sources said at least six chil­dren were among the dead, with a bomb con­tain­ing at least 12 kg (26 pounds) of TNT det­o­nat­ing on the side of the church used by women. The chapel’s floor was cov­ered in de­bris from shat­tered win­dows, its wooden pews blasted apart, its pil­lars black­ened. Here and there lay aban­doned shoes and patches of blood. “God pro­tect Egypt from evil and pro­tect all Egyp­tians,” Pope Tawadros told state tele­vi­sion on Sun­day, af­ter cut­ting short a visit to Greece. “In times like this we lean on each other, stand to­gether and of­fer con­do­lences to each other. This grief we will share to­gether.”

Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah El-Sisi, who an­nounced three days of mourning and vowed jus­tice, is to at­tend a pub­lic cer­e­mony later. Sisi is fight­ing bat­tles on sev­eral fronts. His eco­nomic re­forms have an­gered the poor, a crack­down on the Mus­lim Brother­hood has seen thou­sands jailed and an in­sur­gency rages in North­ern Si­nai, led by Is­lamic State’s Egyp­tian branch. The group has also claimed at­tacks in Cairo and urged its sup­port­ers in re­cent weeks to launch at­tacks around the world as it goes on the de­fen­sive in its Iraqi and Syr­ian strongholds. There was no im­me­di­ate claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity, but ex­iled Brother­hood of­fi­cials and other mil­i­tant groups joined the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in con­demn­ing the attack.

The United States said it would work with its part­ners to “de­feat such ter­ror­ist acts”. The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil urged all states to co­op­er­ate with in­ves­ti­ga­tors to find the cul­prits. But Is­lamic State sup­port­ers cel­e­brated on so­cial me­dia. “God bless the per­son who did this blessed act,” wrote one sup­porter on Telegram. Though Copts have tra­di­tion­ally sup­ported the gov­ern­ment, crowds gath­ered out­side the cathe­dral on Sun­day de­mand­ing re­venge for the attack that took place on a Mus­lim hol­i­day mark­ing Prophet Mo­ham­mad’s birth­day and weeks be­fore Christmas.

Scuf­fles broke out as pro­test­ers ac­cused po­lice of se­cu­rity fail­ures and de­manded Sisi sack the in­te­rior min­is­ter. Some chanted “the peo­ple de­mand the fall of the regime”, the ral­ly­ing cry of the 2011 re­volt that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. At De­mer­dash hospi­tal, rel­a­tives sat out­side the op­er­at­ing the­atres dressed in black, tears streaming down their cheeks. The Health Min­istry re­vised down the death toll from 25 overnight, but doc­tors said it was likely to rise as many peo­ple had suf­fered se­ri­ous in­juries and hos­pi­tals lacked drugs and equip­ment.

Reg­u­lar at­tacks

Ortho­dox Copts, who com­prise about 10 per­cent of Egypt’s 90 mil­lion peo­ple, are the Mid­dle East’s big­gest Chris­tian com­mu­nity. They face reg­u­lar attack by Mus­lim neigh­bors, who burn their homes and churches in poor ru­ral ar­eas, usu­ally in anger over an in­ter-faith ro­mance or church con­struc­tion. The last ma­jor attack on a church took place as wor­ship­pers left a New Year’s ser­vice in Alexan­dria weeks be­fore the start of the 2011 up­ris­ing. At least 21 peo­ple were killed. The cir­cum­stances re­main a mys­tery and no one was pun­ished.

Egypt’s Chris­tian com­mu­nity has felt in­creas­ingly in­se­cure since Is­lamic State spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014, ruth­lessly tar­get­ing re­li­gious mi­nori­ties. In 2015, 21 Egyp­tian Chris­tians work­ing in Libya were killed by Is­lamic State. “There were po­lice cars sta­tioned in front of the church gates .. I’ll tell you what they were do­ing, they were too busy eat­ing break­fast and drink­ing tea and soda. They weren’t do­ing their job, they weren’t ask­ing peo­ple go­ing in and com­ing out,” said Hani Ga­bal­lah, 43, a re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cer. “We have an in­com­pe­tent gov­ern­ment, look at the econ­omy, we are sur­viv­ing only be­cause God is sup­port­ing us.” —Reuters

CAIRO: Egyp­tian mourn­ers re­act at the end the fu­neral of the vic­tims of a bomb ex­plo­sion that tar­geted a Cop­tic Ortho­dox Church. —AFP

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