BREAKING NEWS: Dozens Killed In Egypt Church Blasts On Palm Sunday; Islamic State Claims Responsibility (UPDATE 3)

<Egypt's president declares state of emergency

< Islamic State claims responsibility for two church attacks

<Dozens killed in blasts

By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos

CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)-- Egypt's president has declared a three-month state of emergency after the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for bombings that killed at least 44 people and injured more than 100 others at two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday, one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.

"A series of steps will be taken, most importantly, the announcement of a state of emergency for three months after legal and constitution steps are taken," said President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in a speech aired on state television.

Under Egypt's constitution, the state of emergency must be presented to Parliament for approval within a seven-day period. The emergency law expands police powers of arrest, surveillance and seizures and can limit freedom of movement.

The Islamic State group's Amaq media outlet said "a security detachment" of the Islamic State attacked churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

One powerful blast rippled through the Palm Sunday service at a Coptic Christian church in the northern Egypian city of Tanta, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Cairo, killing 27 people and wounding at least nearly 80 others, officials and state media said.

EXPLOSIVE DEVICE

The explosive device at St. George Coptic church in Tanta was planted under a seat in the church, where it reportedly detonated in the main prayer hall. "I just felt fire grabbing my face. I pushed my brother who was sitting next to me and then I heard people saying: 'explosion'," a wounded witness in hospital told state television.

Hours later, a suicide bomber set off an explosion outside the main Coptic church in Alexandria, St. Mark’s Cathedral, killing at least 17 — including three police officers — and injuring at least 41 others, the Health Ministry and other sources said.

Egyptian state media also reports that the head of Egypt's Coptic Church Pope Tawadros II was inside the Church when the blast happened but he managed to escape without injuries.

A Coptic church spokesman said the Coptic pope, who was conducting Palm Sunday services inside the the Alexandria church, may have been the target of the attack.

MORE ATTACKS

The attacks in the Egyptian Nile Delta city of Tanta and Alexandra are the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt's Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population.

Christians and their churches have been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. Sunday's attack comes just one week before Coptic Easter and the same month as Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt.

Television footage from inside the church showed what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.

Magdi Awad, the head of the provincial ambulance service, confirmed many were killed.

WORLD REACTS

Pope Francis condemned the deadly blasts at a Palm Sunday Mass saying the world was suffering from wars, terrorism and "interests that are armed and ready to strike".

While the pope, who is due to visit Egypt April 28-29, was celebrating the Mass for tens of thousands of people, the Vatican received word of the first attack that killed many in the Coptic church in the Nile Delta. "I pray for the dead and the victims. 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," he said in apparently hastily prepared comments.

U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in with a message on social networking service  Twitter saying: “So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. U.S. strongly condemns. I have great....confidence that President (Abdel Fattah) Al Sisi will handle situation properly.”

French President Francois Hollande also condemned the two church bombings.  “Again, Egypt is struck by terrorists who want to destroy its unity and diversity,” he said in a statement. Hollande stressed that France  “is fully supportive of Egypt in this terrible ordeal and mobilizes all its forces in line with the Egyptian authorities for the fight against terrorism.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “saddened and appalled” by the attacks “that only strengthen our determination to work together with the Egyptian government and people against this shared threat”.  European Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides said on Twitter that his "thoughts are with victims and their families" adding that "Places of worship should be places of peace.”

PREVIOUS KILLINGS

This was the bloodiest terror attack since a  local Islamic State affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a church in Cairo in December that killed around 30 people, mostly women.

The group also claimed a string of killings in the troubled Sinai Peninsula forcing hundreds of Christians to flee to safer areas of the country.

A militant group called Liwa al-Thawra claimed responsibility for an April 1 bomb attack targeting a police training center in Tanta, which wounded 16 people, news reports said.

The group, believed to be linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has mainly targeted security forces and distanced itself from attacks on Christians.

Chistians and other group say Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist president, which also include kidnappings of especially Christian women and girls.

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