An explosion struck Sunday near a church in Alexandria, hours after a bomb gutted a church north of Cairo, in an apparent concerted attack on Egypt’s Coptic community to coincide with Palm Sunday services.
According to the Health Ministry, at least 11 people were killed and 33 wounded when a car bomb detonated outside the St. Mark’s Church in the coastal city of Alexandria. State television reported that it was a suicide attack.
Egypt’s Coptic Church said Pope Tawadros II had attended Palm Sunday mass there. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he was still in the building at the time of the attack. His office confirmed that he was unharmed.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, which came a week before Easter.
— maytham (@maytham956) April 9, 2017
The earlier blast at a church in Tanta, north of Cairo, killed at least 26 people and wounded some 71, officials said, in an apparent attack on Coptic worshipers.
The two attacks are the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, which has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit the Arab world’s most populous country.
Pope Francis decried the first bombing, expressing “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation.” Word of the bombing came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square.
Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar — the leading center of learning in Sunni Islam — likewise condemned the attack, calling it a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.”
The attack adds to fears that Islamic extremists who have long been battling security forces in the Sinai Peninsula may shift their focus to civilians.
Egypt’s Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, accounting for around 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people, and have long complained of discrimination.
The Copts were largely supportive of the military overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, and incurred the wrath of many Islamists, who attacked churches and other Christian institutions after his ouster.