State of emergency in Egypt after attacks on Christian churches.
45 people died in bombings at churches
CAIRO | Egypt imposed a three-month nationwide state of emergency Monday as President AbdelFattah el-Sissi sought to ease public anger and take a tougher stand against Islamic extremists after suicide bombings at two Coptic Christian churches killed 45 people.
A day after the Palm Sunday bloodshed, the Interior Ministry said it killed seven Islamic State militants in an exchange of gunfire during a security operation in the southern city of Assiut. The ministry alleged they were plotting attacks against Christians. It posted photos of corpses lying next to weapons and said IS publications were found with them.
A state of emergency already in place in the Sinai Peninsula has failed to halt near daily attacks against police and security forces by the Islamic State group in the volatile area.
Now the group is stepping up its attacks against Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population, by moving its activities from the Sinai to other parts of Egypt. Its increasingly sophisticated tactics are likely to fuel sectarian tensions and embarrass Mr. el-Sissi, who has cultivated a relationship with President Trump and just returned from a warm White House visit.
The Palm Sunday bombings struck churches in the port city of Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, and the city of Tanta. The head of the Coptic church, Pope Tawadros II, had been inside St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria when the bomber struck there but was unhurt.
“We are seeing simultaneous attacks, based on strong information, targeting big churches across the country. This is a very dangerous development,” said Mina Thabet, a rights researcher focusing on minorities.
“Christians are in a state of shock,” he added. “Attacks are recurrent, victims are falling in bigger numbers, and people live in fear and these groups are growing in power, number, and resources.”
There were scenes of grief and anguish Monday as mourners wailed during funerals at the sprawling St. Mina monastery on the outskirts of Alexandria. Some collapsed near the caskets, which bore the word “martyr.”
Similar scenes took place a day earlier at a church in Tanta, where victims were laid to rest in a place of honor.
On Sunday, the Rev. Daniel Maher buried his 23-year-old son, Beshoy. He recalled watching him singing at the service before the attack at St. George’s Church in Tanta. “He was like an angel,” he said.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks and identified the two attackers with names suggesting they were Egyptians. The group, which carried out a bombing at a Cairo church in December that killed 30 people, threatened more such violence, saying the blood of Christians would flow “like rivers.”
Coptic Christians have put their faith in Mr. el-Sissi, who championed himself as the bulwark against Islamists.
The former army chief met with Mr. Trump a week ago at the White House, seeking closer ties and discussing the fight against extremism. Mr. Trump spoke by phone Sunday with Mr. el-Sissi, to express confidence that Egypt will do what it can “to protect Christians and all Egyptians.”