Bomb in Cairo Coptic cathedral complex kills 25 people
On Monday Egyptians held a prayer service for 25 Christians killed the day before at St Peter’s church in Cairo. “Silence. Interior silence that longs for hope, for healing, for pardon, for justice and for peace.” These were the words of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II in the funeral service for the victims of the 11 December bombing. A bomb, which also wounded 49 people, exploded at 10:00 am, targeting worshippers at Sunday Mass from Cairo’s main Coptic Christian community. Services were being held in St Peter’s on Sunday morning, while St Mark’s Cathedral was being renovated. St Peter’s Church is beside St Mark’s Cathedral, which is the seat of Egypt’s Orthodox Christian church and is home to the office of its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II.
Video footage carried by regional media showed the interior of the church littered with broken and scattered furniture, along with blood and clothing on the floor. “I found bodies, many of them women, lying on the pews. It was a horrible scene,” said cathedral worker Attiya Mahrous who rushed to the church after he heard the explosion. His clothes and hands were stained with blood and his hair matted with dust.
“There were children. What have they done to deserve this? I wish I had died with them instead of seeing these scenes,” another witness said.
It was initially thought that a bomb had been thrown into the church. However footage was released by the Egyptian government showing the moment a suicide bomber, Abu Abdallah al-Masri, detonated a 12kg bomb killing six children and 19 adults who were mostly women.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry said on Monday that the attacker belonged to a terror cell founded by an Egyptian doctor and funded by Muslim Brotherhood leaders living in exile in Qatar. It said the cell was tasked with staging attacks that would stir sectarian strife. However, the Brotherhood has condemned the massacre and Islamic state claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement released on Tuesday.
Christians gathered to protest outside the church in the aftermath of the attack, one of the deadliest attacks on the religious minority in recent memory. Government officials claim the quick identification of the suspected bomber is proof of the efficiency of the security bodies but Christians accused the government of failing to protect them, a complaint that goes back many years.
Christian activist Nader Shokry said more could have been done to prevent the attack. “How did all this planning take place without the security knowing about it?” he asks “You are saying that this person belongs to a terror group and has been previously arrested… So you should have kept a close eye on him.”
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has declared a three-day period of national mourning. He issued a statement condemning the attack and calling for the perpetrators to be hunted down and punished. “Vicious terrorism is being waged against the country’s Copts and Muslims. Egypt will emerge stronger and more united from this situation,” he said.
Egypt’s Christian minority, which represents 10 percent of Egypt’s 82-million population, has often been targeted by Islamist militants. Mohamad Elmasry, an associate professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, believes the “barbaric attack against Coptic Christians is not an aberration.” He added “[The attack] represents the continuation of a cycle of violence that has continued unabated since Egypt’s July 2013 military coup.”
Egypt has seen a wave of attacks by militants since 2013 when the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, an elected leader from the Muslim Brotherhood, and launched a crackdown against Islamists. Some of Mr Morsi’s supporters blamed Christians for supporting the overthrow. Many Christians were relieved when Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were ousted in 2013 after just one year in power.
The church and many Christians have since rallied behind el-Sissi, although there have been growing voices of dissent within the community. Egypt’s Christians have long complained of discrimination in Egypt, contending they are denied top jobs in a wide range of fields, including academia and security apparatuses. Little has changed for Christians under el-Sissi’s rule, with their churches and property frequently attacked or torched by mobs of villagers led by militants in provinces south of Cairo.