Egypt churches attacked: Emergency imposed as 44 killed in suicide bombing, Islamic State claims responsibility

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Suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror and outrage at the government that led the president to call for a three-month state of emergency. Reuters

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The attacks in the northern cities of Tanta and Alexandria that also left 126 people wounded came at the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter, and just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit. Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic church who will meet with Francis on April 28-29, was in the Alexandra cathedral at the time of the bombing but was unhurt, the Interior Ministry said. Reuters

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It was the single deadliest day for Christians in decades and the worst since a bombing at a Cairo church in December killed 30 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the violence, adding to fears that extremists are shifting their focus to civilians, especially Egypt's Christian minority. Reuters

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The first bomb exploded inside St. George's Church in Tanta, killing at least 27 people and wounding 78, overturning pews, shattering windows and staining the whitewashed walls with blood. Video from inside the church showed people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. Several doors had been blown off. Women wailed outside. Reuters

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The attacks highlighted the difficulties facing Abdel Fattah al-Sisi government in protecting Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population. Folloing the attacks, Sisi called an emergency meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Council for Police to discuss developments in the security situation in Egypt. Reuters

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The army chief-turned-president also dispatched elite troops across the country to protect key installations and accused unidentified countries of fueling instability, saying that "Egyptians have foiled plots and efforts by countries and fascist, terrorist organizations that tried to control Egypt." Reuters

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As night fell, hundreds of Christians clad in black, streamed to the church to offer their condolences. Egypt's Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East and have long complained of discrimination. While the community has stood steadfast alongside the Sisi government, an increase in attacks on Christians has tested that support. Reuters

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Updated Date: Apr 10, 2017 10:03:36 IST

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