Devastating blasts hit Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria in Egypt, killing at least 44 people. The first blast occurred in the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Tanta, killing at least 27 people while the second blast occurred several hours later in Saint Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, leaving 17 dead.
Coptic Christians were targeted ahead of Easter on Palm Sunday — a Christian feast that commemorates Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The first explosion occurred near the altar of the church in Tanta, and the other blast took place in Alexandria when a suicide bomber blew himself up after security stopped him from entering the church.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS and ISIL) claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks targeting the Christian minority of Egypt.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered military deployments across Egypt, declaring a three-month state of emergency.
In a statement, he said the army would be sent to protect "vital and important infrastructure." The government announced three days of mourning.
At least two police officers were killed in the line of duty while trying to stop the suicide bomber.
"Lots of bodies were torn apart and scattered on the floor," said an eye-witness who was standing on the church's altar when the bomb exploded.
"There was thick smoke, I couldn't see anyone. We heard voices telling us to leave quickly. People were pushing so much that the gate bent," lamented another witness.
The attacks took place weeks before an expected visit by Pope Francis, who condemned the explosions and prayed for the lives lost.
“I pray for the dead and the injured, and I am close in spirit to the family members [of the victims] and to the entire community," the pope said.
Egypt’s Christian minority wasn’t targeted for the first time. The group that makes up around 10 percent of the country’s 82 million population has been repeatedly targeted in the past.
In 2011, a bombing killed at least 21 people outside the Saints Church in Alexandria during the New Year’s Mass. Another massive bombing in 2016 killed at least 25 people inside a Cairo church during Sunday mass.
Following the deadly attack on Palm Sunday, Muslim Egyptians rushed to mosques to donate blood for the victims.
Tanta resident, Mohammed Ahmad Hassan explained that loudspeakers were used to call on people in the city to head to mosques and donate blood to help those injured by the attack. The call came as bloods stocks at the hospitals were beginning to run out.
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