45 dead, 119 injured in ISIS blasts at Egypt's Coptic churches
At least 45 people were killed and nearly 120 others injured in powerful blasts triggered by ISIS in two churches packed with worshippers celebrating Palm Sunday in Egypt's Tanta and Alexandria cities, the deadliest attacks on the minority Coptic Christians in recent years.
The first blast took place in the Coptic church of Mar Girgis, also known as St George, in the Nile delta city of Tanta, about 120 kilometres from Cairo, killing 27 people and injuring 78, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Security sources said the primary investigations suggest that a person put an explosive device inside the church during the Christian prayers celebrating the Palm Sunday. However, others said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.
The explosion targeted the front rows in the church hall.
Among those killed is Samuel George, the head of Tanta Court.
Hours later, a suicide bomber struck the Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria's Manshyia district, police said.
Citing Health Minister Ahmed Emad, ON TV news channel said at least 18 people, including police personnel, were killed while 41 others injured in Alexandria's suicide attack.
The latest figure puts the combined death toll from the Tanta and Alexandria attacks at 45.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the twin attacks on churches on Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar.
"Islamic State squads carried out the attacks on two churches in Tanta and Alexandria," said the group's propaganda news agency 'Amaq' on its social media accounts. In a statement, the Interior ministry said a suicide bomber had planned to blow up himself using an explosive belt inside the church in Alexandria, but the security forces stopped him.
A police officer and a policewoman, as well a low-ranking police officer, were killed while preventing the suicide bomber from entering the cathedral, the ministry said.
It said Pope Tawadros II was inside the cathedral leading Palm Sunday Mass, but he was not harmed in the attack. However, Egypt's Coptic church said Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria, had left the church just before the blast.
Saint Mark's Cathedral is the historical seat of the Pope of Alexandria, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Meanwhile, security forces have dismantled two explosive devices at Sidi Abdel Rahim Mosque in Tanta city. The mosque, which includes a Sufi shrine, is considered the second most important mosque in city, Al-Ahram Arabic reported.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi condemned the attack and said such terrorist acts will not terrify Egyptians. He also phoned Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences. He ordered the opening of military hospitals to receive the injured.