The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for attacks on two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday in Egypt, which killed at least 42 people and left dozens more injured.
The first explosion, in the northern city of Tanta, ripped through St. George’s Church, killed 25 people and injuring at least 40 more. The second attack, a suicide bomb detonated outside Saint Mark’s coptic orthodox cathedral in Alexandria, left at least 13 dead – including three police officers – and 35 injured.
ISIS news agency Amaq confirmed responsibility for the attack, saying, “A group that belongs to Islamic State carried out the two attacks on the churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.”
The blasts targeted churches on Palm Sunday, one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, which commemorates Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem. The Christian minority in Egypt, which accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s population, is particularly vulnerable, and worshippers have been the target of recent ISIS attacks.
In 2011, a bomb targeting Christian worshippers outside a church in Alexandria killed 21, and, in early April, an explosion injured 13 police officers near a police training center in the Nile Delta city. An ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for an attack on a church in Cairo in December that killed about 30 people, causing many Christians to flee to safer parts of the country.
Pope Francis has condemned Sunday’s attacks, expressing his “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Church and all of the dear Egyptian nation.” The mass at Saint Mark’s was led by the Coptic pope, but a church official said he had left the church by the time the bombings took place.
Images of St. George’s circulating on social media show the destruction left behind in the aftermath of the attacks:
The New York Times reports that an angry crowd attacked a man outside the church in Tanta, believing him to be responsible for coordinating the attacks.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi convened his security council in response to the attacks, and said those injured could be treated at military hospitals according to Sky News Arabia.
Egypt’s Coptic Christians are part of one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. They have long complained of discrimination in Egypt – especially since the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.