In the largest attack on a Christian church in Egypt since 2011, at least 25 people died and another 49 were wounded when a bomb exploded at Cairo’s main Coptic Christian cathedral on Sunday morning.
The blast from a 26-pound bomb, possibly smuggled into the church in a handbag, went off on the women’s side of the small church of St. Peter and St. Paul attached to the Coptic cathedral in the capital’s Abassyia district, according to The Wall Street Journal. Thus, most of the casualties were women, and the death toll is expected to rise.
The explosion came as the country celebrated the anniversary of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s birth. Survivors described the church as being packed with worshippers. “The turnout was bigger than normal,” said one attendee.
The last major bombing targeting Copts came on New Year’s Day in 2011 in the coastal city of Alexandria, detonating outside the prominent Two Saints Church and killing 23 people. No group ever claimed responsibility for that blast.
Some worshippers gathered around the church after Sunday’s explosion, angrily chanting for the resignation of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. When Sisi seized power from Muslim Brotherhood official Mohammed Morsi in 2013, he explicitly promised to protect Egypt’s Christians. But since then, Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who account for about 10% of its 90 million population, have accused him of ignoring their requests for tougher security and for loosening of restrictions on the building of churches.
Muslim mobs have attacked Christians in the city of Minya several times this year over accusations they were illegally building churches, and police were slow to stop the violence.
“Did we learn anything about who was behind the Two Saints Church attack? It’s been six years,” said Qelleeni Farag, 80, as he searched for news of wife, who had been in the church and whose condition was unknown. Farag claimed that police guarding the church had failed to conduct searches of worshippers carrying bags as they entered services.
President Sisi declared a three-day mourning period and promised that the perpetrators would be brought to justice. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.