The horror happened while worshippers were celebrating the “hosannas” of Palm Sunday. In the Bible story, crowds of people shouted in excitement and joy as King Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. They showed their honor by laying down palm leaves in his pathway. On this past Palm Sunday celebration in Cairo, Egypt, the shouts were filled with anguish and tears, and the pathways were filled with blood.
Bombs exploded at two Coptic churches killing at least 43 people and wounding 100 more in a horrific assault credited to an Islamic State group. The first bomb attack happened inside St. George’s Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, killing at least 27 people and wounding 78. A few hours later, a suicide bomber detonated an explosion at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. This is the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt. CCTV caught images of the bomber in a blue pullover being turned away from entering the church by an officer and directed toward a metal detector. The man passed two female police officers, chatting with one of them, and entered the detector. Within seconds, an explosion engulfed the whole area killing at least 16 people and wounding 41.
These attacks happened at the start of the Holiest week in the Christian Church and just before Pope Francis is due to visit 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.” Pope Tawadros II held the Palm Sunday services at the Cathedral, but apparently was left unharmed. It is very possible that the attacker sought to assassinate the pope, the leader of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
Egypt continues to be inundated with persecution and violence against the minority Christians there. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the cruelty through its Aamaq News Agency after just recently warning that it would step up violence against Egypt’s Christians.
Edmond Edward, who was attending the service with his brother, Emil, said, “After the explosion, everything became dark from the smoke. There was a clear lapse in security, which must be tightened from now on to save lives.” He added that the blast appeared to be centered near the altar and that the priest leading the service, Father Daniel, was wounded. Edmond spoke to reporters from a hospital, his head covered in bandages from the wounds he received.
President Donald Trump tweeted that he is “so sad to hear of the terrorist attack” against the U.S. ally but added that he has “great confidence” that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, “will handle the situation properly.”