Cairo (AsiaNews) – A bomb ripped through the Mar Girgis (St George) Coptic Church in the central Delta city of Tanta during Palm Sunday service.
At least 21 people were killed and 69 wounded, Egypt's Health Ministry announced. The dealt toll is expected to rise.
The explosive device was planted under a chair in the main nave, very close to the altar, before the church filled up with worshipers for the liturgy.
At least 16 ambulances shuttled back and forth to local hospitals. Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi ordered military hospitals to treat the wounded.
Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Tanta (Gharbiya governorate), 93 kilometres north of Cairo, is one of the country’s oldest. Built in 316 AD, it was restored several times.
Overall, Gharbiya has 27 churches, four of which are classified as heritage buildings by Egypt’s Archeology Ministry.
The blast occurred as Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II celebrated Palm Sunday Mass in the coastal city of Alexandria.
Today’s is the second terrorist attack against a Coptic church in recent months. On 11 December 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up at Cairo’s St Peter’s and St Paul's Church, located near St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, killing 28 people, and wounding more than 40 others.
For many years, Coptic Christians – about 10 per cent of the population – have been targeted by Jihadis, especially in the Sinai, where Christians have been killed and forced to flee.
Frustrated by the ouster of their leader Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood groups too has tended to use Copts as scapegoats.
Last month, Pope Francis announced that he would be in Egypt on 28-29 April to continue the inter-religious dialogue with Al Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest authority.