Egypt Mourns Slain Churchgoers as Blast Toll Rises

CAIRO (AFP) –  Grief-stricken mourners gathered in Cairo on Monday for the funeral of 24 people killed when a blast tore through a Coptic church, in the deadliest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority.

Wooden coffins, each bearing a cross, were covered with the Egyptian flag and lined up at the Saint Mary and Saint Athanasuis Coptic Orthodox Church in Nasr City district a day after Sunday’s tragedy.

A woman who lost two daughters in the bombing cried and fell to the ground next to their coffins while other mourners prayed silently.

The health ministry on Monday released a new toll saying that 24 people were killed in the bombing of the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, one more fatality than what was reported the previous day.

Most of the victims were women, authorities have said.

The blast also wounded 45 people and 21 of them were still hospitalised, the ministry said.

The attack occurred during Sunday service at the church adjacent to Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope Tawadros II.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombing but Coptic Christians who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population of 90 million have been previously targeted by jihadists.

The blast shattered windows and scattered pews through the interior of the church, scorching its marble pillars.

Ball-bearing-sized shrapnel peppered the walls covered in icons of saints and destroyed a box that contained a saint’s relics. Pools of blood congealed on the floor.

Security officials said they believed a bomb containing 12 kilos (26 pounds) of TNT appeared to have been the cause of the explosion.

“I was leaving the church and then I heard a loud explosion and there was a lot of smoke and people started running and screaming,” Jackline Abdel Shahid, one of the survivors, said on Sunday.

“The ambulances started coming, and they kept bringing out body parts,” she told AFP.

It was the worst attack on the Coptic Christian community since a 2011 suicide bombing killed more than 20 worshippers outside a church in the coastal city of Alexandria.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led a chorus of local and international condemnations, denouncing what he described as “the abhorrent terrorist attack”.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority Al-Azhar, condemned “a great crime against all Egyptians”.

The European Union and Israel also offered their condolences and called for unity against “terrorism”.


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