PALM SUN­DAY TER­ROR IN EGYPT

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY HAMZA HENDAWI

St. George’s was one of two Cop­tic churches in north­ern Egypt that were bombed as wor­ship­pers cel­e­brated Palm Sun­day. The Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks, which killed dozens of peo­ple and in­jured about 100.

TANTA, EGYPT | Bombs ex­ploded at two Cop­tic churches in dif­fer­ent cities in north­ern Egypt as wor­ship­pers were cel­e­brat­ing Palm Sun­day, killing at least 43 peo­ple and wound­ing about 100 in an as­sault claimed by the Is­lamic State.

The blasts came at the start of Holy Week lead­ing up to Easter, and just weeks be­fore Pope Fran­cis is due to visit the Arab world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try, which has been be­set by ex­trem­ist vi­o­lence against its mi­nor­ity Chris­tians.

In the first at­tack, a bomb went off in­side St. George’s Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, killing at least 27 peo­ple and wound­ing 78, of­fi­cials said.

A few hours later, a sui­cide bomber rushed to­ward St. Mark’s Cathe­dral in the coastal city of Alexan­dria, the his­toric seat of Chris­ten­dom in Egypt, killing at least 16 peo­ple and wound­ing 41, the In­te­rior Min­istry said.

CCTV im­ages broad­cast on Egyp­tian chan­nels showed a man in a blue pullover ap­proach the main gate to St. Mark’s but be­ing turned away and di­rected to­ward a metal de­tec­tor. The man then passes a fe­male po­lice of­fi­cer chat­ting to an­other woman, and en­ters a metal de­tec­tor be­fore an ex­plo­sion en­gulfs the area.

Pope Tawadros II had held Palm Sun­day ser­vices at the cathe­dral, but his aides said he had es­caped un­harmed. The tim­ing of the at­tack raised the ques­tion of whether the bomber had sought to as­sas­si­nate the pope, leader of one of the world’s old­est Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties.

The Is­lamic State claimed the at­tacks via its Aa­maq news agency, af­ter hav­ing re­cently warned that it would step up vi­o­lence against Egypt’s Chris­tians.

CBC TV showed footage from in­side the church in Tanta, where peo­ple gath­ered around what ap­peared to be life­less, bloody bod­ies cov­ered with pa­pers.

“Af­ter the ex­plo­sion, every­thing be­came dark from the smoke,” said Ed­mond Ed­ward, at­tend­ing ser­vices with his brother, Emil, who was wounded and leaned on him for sup­port at a nearby hos­pi­tal, his head cov­ered in ban­dages.

“There was a clear lapse in se­cu­rity, which must be tight­ened from now on to save lives,” he said. He added that the blast ap­peared to be cen­tered near the al­tar and that the priest lead­ing the ser­vice, Father Daniel, was wounded.

Su­san Mikhail, whose apart­ment bal­cony across the street has a clear view of the church and its front yard, said the ex­plo­sion vi­o­lently shook her build­ing.

“Dea­cons were the first to run out of the church. Many of them had blood on their white robes,” she told The As­so­ci­ated Press. Later, the more se­ri­ously wounded were car­ried out by other sur­vivors and taken to hospi­tals in private cars, she said.

Hun­dreds of res­i­dents gath­ered in the area, and church mem­bers blocked peo­ple — in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists — from en­ter­ing the church as po­lice cor­doned off the area.

Re­gional po­lice chief Brig. Gen. Hos­sam Eld­din Khal­ifa was fired over the in­ci­dent, with Maj. Gen. Tarek Has­souna re­plac­ing him, state-run news­pa­per al-Ahram re­ported.

Pope Fran­cis, mark­ing Palm Sun­day in St. Peter’s Square, de­cried the bombings, ex­press­ing “deep con­do­lences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Cop­tic church and all of the dear Egyp­tian na­tion.”

He is due to visit Egypt April 28-29. Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted that he is “so sad to hear of the ter­ror­ist at­tack” against the U.S. ally but added that he has “great con­fi­dence” that Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­delFat­tah el-Sissi, “will han­dle the sit­u­a­tion prop­erly.” The two lead­ers met at the White House on April 3.

Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt’s AlAzhar — the lead­ing cen­ter of learn­ing in Sunni Is­lam — also con­demned the at­tacks, calling them a “de­spi­ca­ble ter­ror­ist bomb­ing that tar­geted the lives of in­no­cents.”

Both Is­rael and the Is­lamic Ha­mas move­ment rul­ing neigh­bor­ing Gaza con­demned the bombings as well.

The bombings added to fears that Is­lamic ex­trem­ists who have long been bat­tling se­cu­rity forces in the Si­nai Penin­sula are shift­ing their fo­cus to civil­ians.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Blood stains pews in­side the St. George Church af­ter a sui­cide bomb­ing, in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt. Bombs ex­ploded at two Cop­tic churches in Tanta and Alexan­dria as wor­ship­pers cel­e­brated Palm Sun­day, killing over 40 peo­ple.

The Is­lamic State group has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the bombings in Tanta and Alexan­dria. Over 40 peo­ple were killed and scores more were wounded at the churches.

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