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Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt kill 44, wound dozens

At least 44 people were killed and more than 100 more were injured in two Palm Sunday (April 9) attacks at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt.

The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100 km north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St. George Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.

The second, carried out a few hours later by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark's Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers, and injuring 48, the ministry added.

Coptic Pope Tawadros II had been leading the mass at Saint Mark's Cathedral at the time of the explosion but was not injured, the Interior Ministry said.

Not surprisingly, both attacks were claimed by the ubiquitous ISIS.

Following the blasts, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered troops be deployed across the country to help secure "vital facilities", according to a statement by his office.

President Trump, who hosted el-Sisi last week in his first official visit to the U.S., Tweeted:  "So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. U.S. strongly condemns. I have great confidence that President Al Sisi will handle situation properly."

The Palm Sunday twin attacks come following months of attacks on Egypt’s Coptic minority.Coptic Pope Tawadros II recently told an Egyptian parliamentary committee that attacks against Christians average about one a month over the past three years.

The blasts came just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country.

Pope Francis, marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square, decried the bombings, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation."  The Pope, whose authority does not extend to the Coptic Church,  asked that God “convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons.”

The Coptic Church is the dominant Christian denomination in Egypt, where it is said to have been established in the 1st century by the Apostle Mark.

The Copts were largely supportive of the military overthrow of the democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 by General/Field Mashal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi who has tried to reach out to Copts twice attending Christmas services, a first for an Egyptian president.

Imams urged Pope Francis to speak about persecution of Copts

Tellingly, on April 5,2017, Pope Francis received at Vatican four British Imams who urged the pontiff to speak out about the plight of persecuted Christians when he visits Egypt later this month.

Following their meeting with the Pope, the imams also met with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious dialogue, where they impressed upon him the need for the Pope to speak out for embattled Christian minorities when the pontiff travels to Egypt.  

On 28-29 April the Pope will be in Egypt for a crucial bridge-building exercise with the Islamic world: he is due to address a conference on peace at Cairo’s famous Al-Azhar university. Pope Francis will also meet with the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, who leads a community that have recently come under attack.

Imam Ibrahim Mogra, an alumnus of Al-Azhar university and Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, was among four UK Muslim leaders who met with Pope Francis, told the British paper The Tablet, that Egypt had a “wonderful history of co-existence", pointing out that the Coptic Christian presence was there before Muslims arrived.

“Sadly things have really deteriorated,” he explained. “I’m sure His Holiness will register his concern and remind Muslim leaders in Egypt and political leaders that it is their religious and political duties to safeguard the religious rights - and the human rights - of the minority communities.”

Egypt police shoot dead 2 Brotherhood members

In another development, Egyptian security forces shot dead two members of the Muslim Brotherhood group on Saturday in northern Egypt, according to Egypt's interior ministry.

In a statement, the ministry said the two were killed in an exchange of fire during a raid on a farm allegedly used to make explosives in the Nile Delta province of Beheira.

The ministry said five Brotherhood members have been detained during the raid. The ministry claimed that the farm was used to train members of Brotherhood-affiliated armed groups.

Saturday’s deaths came one day after a Brotherhood member was killed in a “shootout” with security forces in northern Egypt.

The Cairo-based Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), for its part, described the deaths as “extrajudicial killings.”

Once Egypt’s best organized political group, the Muslim Brotherhood has been the subject of a harsh crackdown by the Egyptian regime since the military deposed Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, in a 2013 coup.

The Egyptian authorities have designated the group a “terrorist” organization.

Since Morsi’s ouster, thousands of Brotherhood members have been thrown behind bars and hundreds have been slapped with death sentences.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali 2011 (@) gmail.com

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