State of emer­gency af­ter Egypt church bomb­ings

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News/worldwide -

ALEXAN­DRIA, Egypt — Fam­i­lies of vic­tims of Sun­day’s bomb­ing at Alexan­dria’s Cop­tic cathe­dral gath­ered at the Monastery of Saint Mina un­der heavy se­cu­rity on Mon­day as Egypt’s cabi­net ap­proved a three-month state of emer­gency ahead of a sched­uled trip by Pope Fran­cis.

Coffins of the 17 killed were lined up on the tiled square out­side the monastery ahead of the fu­neral. Po­lice checked cars as they en­tered the grounds, with hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered out­side, and dozens of tanks lined parts of the road from Cairo.

The blast in Egypt’s sec­ond largest city came hours af­ter a bomb struck a Cop­tic church in Tanta, a nearby city in the Nile Delta, killing 27 and wound­ing nearly 80.

Both at­tacks were claimed by the Is­lamic State, which has waged a cam­paign against Egypt’s Chris­tian mi­nor­ity, the largest in the Mid­dle East. The Copts, whose pres­ence in Egypt dates to the Ro­man era, have long com­plained of re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion and ac­cused the state of not do­ing enough to pro­tect them.

Coming on Palm Sun­day, when Chris­tians mark the ar­rival of Je­sus in Jerusalem, the bomb­ings ap­peared de­signed to spread fear among Copts, who make up 10 per­cent of Egypt’s pop­u­la­tion.

They also raised se­cu­rity fears ahead of a visit to Cairo by Ro­man Catholic Pope Fran­cis planned for April 28-29.

Cop­tic Pope Tawadros, who was lead­ing the mass in Alexan­dria’s Saint Mark’s Cathe­dral when the bomb ex­ploded, was not harmed, the In­te­rior Min­istry said.

The na­tion­wide state of emer­gency de­clared by Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi and agreed by the cabi­net on Mon­day is ex­pected to be ap­proved by par­lia­ment within seven days in or­der to re­main in place.

“The armed forces and po­lice will do what is nec­es­sary to con­front the threats of ter­ror­ism and its fi­nanc­ing,” the cabi­net said in a state­ment. Mea­sures would be taken to “main­tain se­cu­rity across the coun­try, pro­tect pub­lic and pri­vate prop­erty and the lives of cit­i­zens,” it said.

In Tanta, where many fam­i­lies buried their dead on Sun­day, mem­bers of the Cop­tic com­mu­nity ex­pressed anger at the lack of se­cu­rity, say­ing that de­spite warn­ings of an at­tack, po­lice had not stepped up ef­forts to pro­tect them.

A se­nior po­lice of­fi­cial told Reuters a bomb was dis­cov­ered and dis­abled near the Tanta church about a week ago.

“That should have been an alarm or a warn­ing that this place is tar­geted,” said 38-year-old Amira Maher. “Es­pe­cially Palm Sun­day, a day when many peo­ple gather, more than any other time in the year... I don’t know how this hap­pened.”

At Tanta Univer­sity hospi­tal morgue, des­per­ate fam­i­lies were try­ing to get inside to search for loved ones. Se­cu­rity forces held them back to stop over­crowd­ing, en­rag­ing the crowd.

“Why are you pre­vent­ing us from en­ter­ing now? Where were you when all this hap­pened?” shouted one women look­ing for a rel­a­tive. Some ap­peared in to­tal shock, their faces pale and un­mov­ing. Others wept openly as women wailed in mourn­ing.

Though Is­lamic State has long waged a low-level war against sol­diers and po­lice in Egypt’s Si­nai penin­sula for years, its stepped up as­sault on Chris­tians in the main­land could turn a provin­cial in­sur­gency into wider sec­tar­ian con­flict.

On Sun­day, the group warned of more at­tacks and boasted it had killed 80 peo­ple in three church bomb­ings since De­cem­ber.

Se­cu­rity an­a­lysts said it ap­peared that Is­lamic State, un­der pres­sure in Iraq and Syria, was try­ing to widen its threat and had iden­ti­fied Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties as an eas­ier tar­get.

“ISIS are deeply sec­tar­ian, that’s noth­ing new, but they have de­cided to re-em­pha­sise that as­pect in Egypt over the past few months,” said HA Hel­lyer, se­nior non-res­i­dent fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil and the Royal United Ser­vices In­sti­tute.

“Chris­tian tar­gets are eas­ier — churches are far more dif­fi­cult to for­tify than say an army bar­racks or a po­lice sta­tion. It’s a dis­turb­ing de­vel­op­ment be­cause it in­di­cates we have the pos­si­bil­ity of re­peated and con­tin­ued at­tacks against soft tar­gets.”— Reuters.

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