Latest: Islamic State claim attacks that killed 37 in Egyptian churches

Latest: IS has claimed the attacks via its Aamaq news agency, after having recently warned that it would step up attacks on Egypt's Christians.

    What we know so far:

  • At least 25 people have been killed and 70 wounded after a bomb exploded in a church in Tanta;
  • At least 11 people have been killed and 35 wounded in a second blast at a church in Alexandria;
  • Islamic State has claimed the attacks;
  • The attacks come just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt.

Update 2.15pm: IS has claimed the attacks via its Aamaq news agency, after having recently warned that it would step up attacks on Egypt's Christians.

Pope Francis condemned the bombings, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation". Word of the attacks came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St Peter's Square.

Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar - the leading centre of learning in Sunni Islam - also condemned the attacks, calling them a "despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents".

Both Israel and the Islamic Hamas movement ruling neighbouring Gaza also condemned the bombings.

The bombings add to fears that Islamic extremists who have long been battling security forces in the Sinai Peninsula are shifting their focus to civilians.

Update 1.30pm: Egypt's Health Ministry said an explosion at a church in the coastal city of Alexandria killed 11 people and wounded at least 35 others.

It was the second attack targeting Egypt's Coptic Christians after a bomb in a church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta killed 26 people and wounded more than 70.

The ministry said the explosion went off at Saint Mark's Church in Alexandria, where Pope Tawadros II had earlier celebrated Palm Sunday.

No one immediately claimed either attack but Islamic extremists have repeatedly targeted Egypt's Christian minority in the past.

Update 1pm: A blast at a church in Alexandria has killed six and wounded 66 in a second Palm Sunday attack on Coptic Christians, Egypt's Health Ministry said.

Relatives and onlookers gather outside a church after a bomb attack in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt.

Update 11.36am: At least 25 people have been killed and 71 wounded after a bomb exploded in a church north of Cairo that was packed with Palm Sunday worshippers.

The attack in the Nile Delta town of Tanta was the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt's Christian minority, which makes up around 10% of the population and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists.

It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt.

CBC TV showed footage from inside the church, where a large number of people gathered around bodies covered with papers.

No one immediately claimed the attack, which comes a week before Easter.

Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar - the leading centre of learning in Sunni Islam - condemned the attack, calling it a "despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents".

A local Islamic State affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a church in Cairo in December that killed around 30 people, mostly women, as well as a string of killings in the restive Sinai Peninsula that caused 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 centre in Tanta, which wounded 16 people.

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

Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist president.

Update 11am: At least 21 people have been killed in an explosion inside a church in Egypt.

50 others have been wounded in the blast in the city of Tanta - which is around 100 kilometres north of Cairo.

The cause is not yet known.

Earlier: At least 13 people have been killed and 25 wounded after a bomb exploded at a church north of Cairo.

The attack took place on the Coptic Christian Palm Sunday, when the church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta was packed with worshippers.

Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed confirmed the death toll while the state-run MENA news agency provided the same death toll and said 35 were wounded.

Christians make up around 10% of Egypt's population and have repeatedly been targeted by Islamic extremists.

PA


KEYWORDS: egypt, cairo, bomb

 

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