Funerals have been held for a number of victims of Sunday’s bombings targeting Egyptian Coptic churches that left at least 43 people dead and more than 100 injured.
At least 27 people were killed in an explosion inside a church in the Egyptian Nile Delta city of Tanta, while another blast killed 16 in front of a church in the coastal city of Alexandria.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the attacks which occurred a week before Coptic Easter, with Pope Francis scheduled to visit Egypt later this month.
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On Sunday evening, at St Mark’s church in Alexandria, bodies were brought in wooden coffins decorated with golden crosses to the church yard where hundreds of sad and angry Copts gathered and a priest was saying prayers.
A Muslim funeral was also held in El Behira province for one of the four policemen killed in the attack.
After the blasts, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered troops be deployed across the country to help secure “vital facilities” and said a three-month state of emergency would be imposed.
“A series of steps will be taken, most importantly, the announcement of a state of emergency for three months after legal and constitution steps are taken,” Sisi said in a speech aired on state television.
The first attack occurred in the Coptic church of Mar Girgis, also known as St George, which was packed with worshippers marking Palm Sunday, a Christian feast commemorating the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.
Several hours after the bombing in Tanta, the second attack hit Saint Mark’s church where Coptic Pope Tawadros II was leading a service.
Witnesses in Tanta described a bloody and chaotic scene.
“Lots of bodies were torn apart and scattered on the floor,” one man who was standing on the church’s altar when the bomb exploded said.
|Mourners gather for the funeral for the victims of a bomb explosion at Mar Girgis Coptic church in Tanta [EPA]|
|Security personnel secured the scene of the bomb explosion inside Mar Girgis church in Tanta [Khaled Elfiqi/EPA]|
Another witness said she saw flames flaring up to the church ceiling.
“There was thick smoke, I couldn’t see anyone,” she said. “We heard voices telling us to leave quickly. People were pushing so much that the gate bent.”
Samer Shehata, associate professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Al Jazeera the attacks show a “tremendous security lapse” by Egyptian authorities.
“In the last few months, there have been an increased number of attacks on Egyptian Copts, individually, as well as on churches,” Shehata said, adding that the church in Tanta received a threat 10 days ago.
“I do think this represents a lack of seriousness on the part of the state in really securing the Coptic community and places that could potentially be attacked.”
Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims.
“Let us pray for the victims of the attack unfortunately carried out today,” he said.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the bombings. Speaking through his spokesperson, the Secretary-General said he hoped “the perpetrators of this horrific terrorist act will be swiftly identified and brought to justice”.
In a separate press statement, the Security Council called the bombings “heinous and cowardly”.
The bombings were the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, who make up about 10 percent of the population and have been repeatedly targeted by armed groups.
CBC TV showed footage from inside the church in Tanta, with a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.
A bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49 in December, many of them women and children, in the deadliest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority in years.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies