Chaos and carnage at Egypt churches

Coptic clergy clothing stained with blood after the blast at Mar Girgis church in Tanta, north of Cairo, yesterday. People gathered in the streets in the aftermath of the bombing near St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria yesterday, carrying the bodies o
People gathered in the streets in the aftermath of the bombing near St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria yesterday, carrying the bodies of victims and mourning those killed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Coptic clergy clothing stained with blood after the blast at Mar Girgis church in Tanta, north of Cairo, yesterday. People gathered in the streets in the aftermath of the bombing near St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria yesterday, carrying the bodies o
People gathered in the streets in the aftermath of the bombing near St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria yesterday, carrying the bodies of victims and mourning those killed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Coptic clergy clothing stained with blood after the blast at Mar Girgis church in Tanta, north of Cairo, yesterday. People gathered in the streets in the aftermath of the bombing near St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria yesterday, carrying the bodies o
Coptic clergy clothing stained with blood after the blast at Mar Girgis church in Tanta, north of Cairo, yesterday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Worshippers describe scenes of horror after back-to-back bombings kill dozens of people

CAIRO • Thousands gathered outside a church in Tanta shortly after a blast that killed at least 27 people, some wearing black, crying and describing a scene of carnage.

"There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered," said a Christian woman who was in the Coptic church of Mar Girgis, also known as St George.

Another worshipper, Ms Vivian Fareeg, said: "There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room, and the injuries were extremely severe."

Mr Nabil Nader, who lives in front of the Tanta church, said: "I heard the blast and came running. I found people torn up... some people, only half of their bodies remained."

More than three dozen people were killed in two back-to-back bombings yesterday - the first at the church in Tanta, north of Cairo, and the second outside St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria.

 
 

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsiblity for both attacks. ISIS, which has waged a low-level conflict for years against soldiers and police, has shifted its tactics, targeting Christian civilians and broadening its reach into Egypt's mainland - a potential turning point in a country trying to stop a provincial insurgency from spiralling into wider bloodshed.

Egypt's Christian community has felt increasingly insecure since ISIS spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014, ruthlessly targeting religious minorities. In 2015, 21 Egyptian Christians working in Libya were killed by the group.

"Of course we feel targeted. There was a bomb here about a week ago, but it was dismantled. There is no security," said another Christian woman in Tanta, referring to an attack earlier this month near a police training centre that killed one policeman and injured 15.

Coptic Christians, who make up about a tenth of Egypt's more than 92 million people and who celebrate Easter next weekend, face regular attacks by Muslim neighbours, who burn their homes and churches in poor rural areas, usually in anger over an inter-faith romance or the building of a church.

They have also been targeted by several attacks in recent months.

Islamist militants accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013.

In December, a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo.

A spate of Islamist-linked attacks in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led some Coptic families to flee their homes.

About 250 Christians took refuge in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya after ISIS released a video in February calling for attacks on them.

Egypt's army is waging a counter-insurgency against an ISIS affiliate in Sinai, which has claimed scores of attacks against police and army positions.

Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo at the end of the month to show solidarity with Egypt's Christians.

Yesterday, he denounced the bombings and asked God to "convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons". He will visit the site of the December church attack next to St Mark's Cathedral - the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Chaos and carnage at Egypt churches'. Print Edition | Subscribe