Palm Sunday massacre: 44 dead as Daesh targets Coptic Pope

At least 44 people have been killed after terrorists linked to Daesh detonated bombs at two Coptic churches in Egypt. The blasts took place yesterday (Sunday) – a day when both eastern and western Christian traditions celebrated Palm Sunday.

The first bomb was detonated inside St George’s Coptic Church in Tanta, north of Cairo. It caused 27 deaths and 78 injuries. CCTV footage and photos taken after the attack shows pools of blood on the floors and pillars of the church.

Hours later, a second terrorist attempted to gain access to St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria; the seat of the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who was inside the building having completed the Mass. The Alexandria terrorist was prevented from entering the church by security forces. He detonated his bomb outside the cathedral, killing 17 and injuring 48. The victims of this attack included at least three police officers.

The terrorist group Daesh has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Reuters news agency said, quoting a statement which warned of further attacks to come: “Crusaders and their apostate allies should know the bill between us and them is very big and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, god willing. Wait for us, for we will wait for you.”

Reaction to the attack was swift. Pope Tawadros said that “sinful acts will not undermine the unity and coherence of the Egyptian people in the face of terrorism.”

Pope Francis, who is due to visit Egypt later this month, was leading a Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican when news of the attacks in Egypt emerged. “I pray for the dead and the victims,” he said at the end of the service. “May the Lord convert the hearts of people who sow terror, violence and death and even the hearts of those who produce and traffic in weapons.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Tweeted his support for the victims and a message of solidarity with the Coptic church. He said: “As we come to Easter pray for victims, the justice of the cross, hope & healing of resurrection.”

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, represented Archbishop Welby at the installation on Pope Tawadros II. “We pray for Christians in Egypt who show such courage and resilience in continuing to witness to Christ despite increasing danger and rising attacks on their communities,” he said this morning. “We pray for their leaders as they continue to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of their people.”

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of the influential Al Azhar Sunni Islam university and Mosque described the attacks as a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.”

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, a member of AOOIC – the Anglican / Oriental Orthodox International Commission official dialogue body – described the bombings as “yet another targeted attack . . . during what was meant to be a joyous day of families celebrating Palm Sunday.”

He continued: “While it is still too early to determine responsibility, what is undeniable is the senseless and heartless brutality that can lead a person or people to indiscriminately take innocent lives, especially at the most vulnerable hour of prayer.

“Today we suffer with our sisters and brothers who have experienced losses in London, in Stockholm, and as well as those who continue to suffer on a daily basis across the Middle East. We pray for them and their families as well as their suffering and struggling communities.

“We pray for His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and all our Coptic clergy in Egypt who continue to serve their spiritual children faithfully and diligently at a time in which their leadership and pastoral care is needed by our whole community. We also pray for our Coptic Orthodox sisters and brothers who continue to be resilient in the face of ongoing and escalating attacks, and who resist the urge to react vengefully or reciprocally.

“We are also saddened by the news that members of the security services who attempted to foil the second bombing in Alexandria lost their lives in the line of duty. We pray comfort and resolve for their families and colleagues.

“As we celebrate Palm Sunday today and Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, we now also mark the entry of those who have passed today into the heavenly Jerusalem. As we continue into the Holy Week of our Saviour, we share in the pain and heartbreak of their families and of all those affected by today’s incidents. As we celebrate the Feast of the glorious Resurrection at the end of this week, we are reminded that our life here on earth is a journey often filled with pain, at the end of which is a promised glorious and eternal life void of such suffering and evil.”

First published on the Anglican Communion News Service website
10 April 2017