A BOMBING at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral has left at 24 dead and dozens wounded.
The bomb exploded at around 10 o’clock on Sunday morning inside the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which adjoins St Mark’s, the seat of the Coptic Pope. It is the worst attack on Christians in Egypt since the bombing of a New Year Service at All Saints’ Coptic Church in Alexandria, five years ago, in which 23 people died and 96 were wounded (News, 7 January, 2011)
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack took place on a national holiday to mark the anniversary of the birth of Muhammad, and Islamists are suspected, though the bombing has been condemned by exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Supporters of Islamic State celebrated on social media.
The bomb was detonated on the side of the church normally reserved for women. The charity Open Doors reports that all but three of those who died were women and children. At a state funeral for the victims, on Monday, President Sisi named the alleged perpetrator as Mahmoud Shafiq Mohamed Mustafa, aged 22. It had been a suicide bombing, the President said. Three men and a woman had been arrested. The account appeared to contradict earlier reports, which suggested that a bag had been left in the Church.
Police who arrived at the scene on Sunday were met with anger. Hundreds of protesters gathered, some of whom chanted: “As long as Egyptian blood is cheap, down, down with any president.”
In a statement that described the victims as martyrs, President Sisi declared three days of mourning.
“Such terrorist act which targets the homeland and Christians and Muslims alike will only make Egypt stronger,” it said. “The pain the Egyptians feel at this time will never go in vain but rather gives them more determination to track down the perpetrators and put to trial everyone involved in this criminal act and other terrorist acts against the country.”
The Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, presided over funerals for the victims, on Monday. The 25 coffins were laid in front of the altar, bearing the names of those killed. In a statement broadcast on television, he said that “strong unity is the most important thing”.
Both the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and Father Boules Haliem, a spokesman for the Coptic Church of Eygpt described the bomb as an attack on all Egyptians.
“Let us pray in lament, protest and in hope for them, martyrs for Christ,” the Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted.
Although attacks on Christians have declined since the outbreak of violence prompted by the removal from power of the Muslim Brotherhood, Christian Solidarity has tracked regular instances of assaults on both people and buildings. Attacks are often sparked by rumours of that a church is going to be built on a piece of land, or tales of romantic liaisons between Muslims and Christians, it says.
A statement from Human Rights Watch in the wake of the Cairo bombing said that Egypt’s authorities had “for many years failed to protect the personal safety or basic rights of Coptic citizens”.
The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said on Monday: “Crimes will always be perpetrated and criminals will continue to exist, but such a strategic, vicious act is difficult to comprehend.”
He referred to misinformation about the attack that has begun circulating, from people who have politicised this atrocity by actually laying blame on those targeted, maimed and killed because of the perceived political stance of Christians in Egypt. They have even gone so far as to imply that Christians and the Church were somehow complicit in this crime to gain sympathy.”
None the less, he concluded: “Life will certainly go on and atrocities such as these will by no means defeat us.”