Egypt’s Coptic Church suffered more bomb attacks during Holy Week and Easter, after at least 44 people were killed on Palm Sunday alone. Coptic Christians are the oldest surviving Christian community in the Middle East and are increasingly subjected to acts of terrorism by hard-line Islamic extremists.
On Palm Sunday, two bombs exploded in two different churches in Egypt. One was timed to go off at a church in Tanta, in the Nile Delta region, and one was caused by a suicide bomber at a cathedral in Alexandria. Both deliberately targeted packed services to cause maximum loss of life.
Pope Tawadros II, leader of Alexandria’s Coptic Church, was leading a Palm Sunday service in the cathedral at the time, but was reported unharmed. Four police officers who tried to intercept the suicide bomber were killed in the second blast in Alexandria.
Advocacy organisation Release International condemned the attacks and has called for prayer and increased security to safeguard the largest, oldest remaining Christian community in the region. It urged the Egyptian authorities to step up security and encouraged Christians worldwide to stand with Egypt’s Coptic believers in prayer.
The Egyptian Government has announced three days of mourning after the attacks, for which Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility. Earlier this year, IS also targeted Christians in the coastal city of Al-Arish in northern Sinai in February. They ordered all 11,000 Christians to leave the city or be killed. Within ten days, they had murdered nine Christians, prompting many to flee the area. ‘Through no choice of their own, Coptic Christians have found themselves on the frontline of faith in Egypt’, said Paul Robinson, of Release.
He added, ‘They have long been persecuted for their beliefs and the violence has increased dramatically in recent years. It would be a tragedy for the region if Coptic Christians are forced to join the exodus of believers who have been driven out of the lands of the Bible’.
His comments were echoed by those of Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, who called the attacks ‘senseless and heartless brutality’.
He said, ‘We suffer with our sisters and brothers, who have experienced losses in London, in Stockholm, and as well as those who continue to suffer on a daily basis across the Middle East. We pray for them and their families as well as their suffering and struggling communities’.