President Abdel Fattah al-Sis of Egypt has announced a three-month state of emergency in the country following the bomb explosion that blew up two Coptic Christian churches in two different cities killing dozens of people in the city on Sunday.
The announcement was made in a defiant speech at the presidential palace after a meeting of the national defence council.
‘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,’ Sisi said in a speech aired on state television. ‘
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group claimed responsibility for the bombings in the Nile Delta cities of Alexandria and Tanta, which killed at least 44 people who were celebrating Palm Sunday.
The attacks followed a Cairo church bombing in December and came weeks ahead of a planned visit by Catholic Pope Francis intended to show support for the country’s Christian minority.
At least 78 people were wounded in Tanta and another 40 wounded in Alexandria, the health ministry said.
Egyptian officials denounced the violence as an attempt to sow divisions in the country, while Francis sent his “deep condolences” to Tawadros.
IS claimed that its “squads” carried out both attacks, in a statement by its self-styled Amaq news agency published on social media accounts.
Images broadcast by private television stations showed bloodstains smearing the whitewashed walls of the church in Tanta next to shredded wooden benches.
“The explosion took place in the front rows, near the altar, during the mass,” General Tarek Atiya, the deputy to Egypt’s interior minister in charge of relations with the media, told AFP.
“I heard the blast and came running. I found people torn up… some people, only half of their bodies remained,” said Nabil Nader, who lives in front of the Tanta church.
The worshippers had been celebrating Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, marking the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also condemned the attack, stressing Egypt’s determination to “eliminate terrorism”.
The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, an influential Sunni Muslim authority, said it aimed to “destabilise security and… the unity of Egyptians”.
Egypt’s Copts have endured successive attacks since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.
More than 40 churches were attacked nationwide in the two weeks after the deadly dispersal by security forces of two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo on August 14, 2013, Human Rights Watch said.
Amnesty International later said more than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged, adding that at least four people were killed.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as then army chief helped remove Morsi, has defended his security forces and accused jihadists of attacking Copts in order to divide the country.