Twenty-five people died and 49 others were injured in an explosion that rocked Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbasiya on Sunday morning. Authorities believe the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device (IED) containing 12kg of TNT, deliberately targeting Sunday worshippers.
The attack came as Cairo was still reeling from an attack on a checkpoint in Giza on Friday, which left at least six security personnel dead.
A source from within the cathedral told Daily News Egypt on condition of anonymity that they expect the number of casualties to rise.
“The explosion took place at 10:00am inside the church hall,” the source said. “There was heavy smoke coming from inside the building … there was screaming and body parts everywhere. Ambulances arrived on the scene and took the dead and wounded to El Damrdash and El Shefaa hospitals.”
Sources from the church asserted that the majority of those killed were women. Two young children between the ages of three and four were also killed in the explosion.
At the time of print no preliminary report of the incident was available, and how the perpetrator managed to carry out the attack is still unknown.
Talks are currently ongoing between the president’s security and anti-terrorism adviser Ahmed Gamal El-Din and the director of Giza security Kamal El-Daly about replacing Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, sources told Daily News Egypt.
Contradictory statements have been published by local media outlets regarding the attack on the cathedral, with one outlet reporting a woman had entered the cathedral and placed the IED in the women’s section.
Another media report alleged the explosive was thrown into the church by an unknown assailant on a motorbike during prayer.
As of the time of print, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi called Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria to express his condolences and declared a three-day national mourning period. The president also pledged to find the perpetrators and to arrest them.
“The president strictly condemns the terrorist attack that targeted the cathedral today and which martyred Egyptians,” a statement from the president’s office said.
The army’s official spokesperson also condemned the attack. Ghaffar and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail paid a visit to the cathedral, and ordered an investigative team be formed to investigate the attack and find the perpetrators, a statement from the Ministry of Interior said. The statement continued by saying that a large number of security personnel, firefighters, and explosives experts were dispatched to the scene and that the number of dead and injured are still being counted.
In response to the explosion, a number of people have staged a protest in front of the cathedral to express their anger. The protesters called on the state to hold accountable security officials that were derelict in their duties, including the Ministry of Interior, witnesses told Daily News Egypt.
During Ghaffar and Ismail’s visit to the cathedral, protesters barred the duo from entering, and called for Ghaffar’s immediate resignation, witnesses said. Prominent media figures Ahmed Mousa, Lamis Al-Hadidi, and Reham Saeed had also appeared on the scene, but were barred from entering.
The US embassy expressed its condolences to the families of the victims on Sunday.
Coptic churches have come under attack several times in recent years. In 2011 a church in Alexandria was bombed on New Year’s Eve, and in August 2013 a church in Cairo was burned to the ground after the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya protest.
What followed the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda square dispersals was a series of retaliations that varied from attacks on Coptic Christians, police officers, and unarmed civilians. The majority of attacks on churches took place in Upper Egypt.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 40 churches were attacked in Egypt since August 14, 2013, when the security forces launched a crackdown against demonstrations demanding the return of former president Mohamed Morsi.
Additional reporting by Mahmoud Nasr and Nada Amr