Bombing at Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral kills 25.
CAIRO | A bombing at a chapel adjacent to Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral killed 25 people and wounded another 49 during Sunday Mass, one of the deadliest attacks carried out against the religious minority in recent memory and a grim reminder of Egypt’s difficult struggle to restore security and stability after nearly six years of turmoil.
The attack came two days after a bomb elsewhere in Cairo killed six policemen, an assault claimed by a shadowy group that authorities say is linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
That group — called “Hasm,” or “Decisiveness” — distanced itself from the attack in a statement issued Saturday, saying it does not as a principle kill women, children, the elderly or worshippers.
The statement, at least in theory, leaves the extremist Islamic State group or like-minded independent militants as the chief suspects.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attack. However, Islamic militants have targeted Christians in the past, including a New Year’s Day bombing at a church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in 2011 that killed at least 21 people.
More recently, churches and Christian property in southern Egypt were targeted in the aftermath of the military’s July 2013 ouster of an Islamist president. Those were blamed on Brotherhood supporters and ultraorthodox Salafi Muslims.
The Islamic State has targeted Christians in the Sinai Peninsula, where it primarily wages attacks against security forces. However, Islamic State attacks on the Egyptian mainland have largely been confined to security personnel and judicial officials.
Regardless of who is behind the bombing, the attack was likely to deal a setback to Egypt’s struggle to regain normalcy and revive its ailing economy since a popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. Moreover, the attacks this past week were almost certain to undermine the modest recovery made in recent months by the vital tourism sector.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency said an assailant lobbed a bomb into a chapel adjacent to St. Mark’s Cathedral, seat of Egypt’s Orthodox Christian church and home to the office of its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II, who cut short a visit to Greece to return to Cairo after the blast.
Egyptian state TV and the Health Ministry put the casualty toll at 25 dead and 49 wounded.
Witnesses said the explosion may have been caused by an explosive device planted inside the chapel. A senior church cleric, Bishop Moussa, said at the cathedral that there were unconfirmed reports that a woman posing as a worshipper left a bag in the chapel’s women’s section before slipping out. Conflicting accounts are common in the immediate aftermath of attacks.
The blast took place as a Sunday Mass in the chapel was about to end and coincided with a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Most of the victims are thought to be women and children.
State television aired calls by several Cairo hospitals treating the wounded for blood donations and President AbdelFattah el-Sissi declared a three-day state of mourning.
Security forces examine St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo following a bombing on Sunday. The blast killed 25 of people and wounded many others, making it one of the deadliest attacks carried out against the religious minority in recent memory.