CAIRO • Egypt prepared to impose a state of emergency yesterday after bombings killed at least 44 people at two churches in the deadliest attacks in recent memory on the country's Coptic Christian minority.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the three-month period, which will vastly increase the powers of Egypt's security forces, after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the twin bombings on Palm Sunday.
Mr Sisi, who ordered the army to protect "vital infrastructure" and increase border security, warned in a defiant speech that the war against militants "will be long and painful", Agence France-Presse reported.
A new anti-terrorism body will be staffed at the highest level and be able to take whatever action is needed to "adjust the whole situation, whether it's related to the media, the judiciary, legal and religious discourse", he said.
"I ask Egyptians to bear this pain," he added.
The first Sunday bombing - at the Mar Girgis Church in Tanta city north of Cairo - killed 27 people, the health ministry said. In the second attack - outside Saint Mark's Church in Alexandria - 17 people were killed after a suicide bomber was prevented from entering the building. Scores more were wounded in the latest in a string of extremist-linked attacks on Egypt's Coptic community.
At the scene of the Alexandria blast yesterday, investigators combed through the wreckage, taking pictures of the debris.
A handful of women dressed in black showed their identification papers to guards before entering the church. "I'm so sad I cannot speak," said one mourner quoted by Agence France-Presse.
Lawmakers said the state of emergency - Egypt's first since widespread unrest in 2013 - would help the country to face down an extremist insurgency. It will allow police to detain for 45 days suspects "known to the security services but for whom there is not enough evidence to go to trial", said Member of Parliament Yehia Kedwani.
The state of emergency still technically needs the approval of Parliament - a formality given the number of pro-Sisi delegates.
ISIS has been waging a deadly insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula and has claimed scores of attacks on security forces there. But it has been unable to seize population centres, unlike its early gains in Iraq and Syria, and it has also lost top militants to Egyptian military strikes in recent months.
Analysts said Sunday's bombings suggest the group is lashing out as it finds itself under increasing pressure in other countries.
Copts, who make up about one-tenth of Egypt's population of more than 92 million, have been targeted by several attacks in recent months. Political science professor Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid of Cairo University voiced worry over the powers afforded to security forces under the state of emergency.
"Under Sisi, we've seen that arrests and sentences also concern those who have no link with terrorist acts," he said.
Meanwhile, Singapore said it "strongly condemns" the terror attacks in Egypt, saying those responsible must be brought to justice. There has been no report of any Singaporean affected by the attacks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement.
"Singapore stands together with the Egyptian government against the scourge of terrorism and with its people at this time of grief," it added. The MFA said there are no e-registered Singaporeans in both cities and no reports of Singaporeans injured or directly affected by the attacks so far.