At least 44 people were killed and more than 100 more were injured in two Palm Sunday (April 9) attacks at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt.
The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100 km north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St. George Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.
The second, carried out a few hours later by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark's Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers, and injuring 48, the ministry added.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II had been leading the mass at Saint Mark's Cathedral at the time of the explosion but was not injured, the Interior Ministry said.
Not surprisingly, both attacks were claimed by the ubiquitous ISIS.
Following the blasts, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered troops be deployed across the country to help secure "vital facilities", according to a statement by his office.
President Trump, who hosted el-Sisi last week in his first official visit to the U.S., Twitted: "So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. U.S. strongly condemns. I have great confidence that President Al Sisi will handle situation properly."
The Palm Sunday twin attacks come following months of attacks on Egypt's Coptic minority. Coptic Pope Tawadros II recently told an Egyptian parliamentary committee that attacks against Christians average about one a month over the past three years.
The blasts came just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country.
Pope Francis, marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square, decried the bombings, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation." The Pope, whose authority does not extend to the Coptic Church, asked that God "convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons."
The Coptic Church is the dominant Christian denomination in Egypt, where it is said to have been established in the 1st century by the Apostle Mark.
The Copts were largely supportive of the military overthrow of the democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 by General/Field Mashal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi who has tried to reach out to Copts twice attending Christmas services, a first for an Egyptian president.
Imams urged Pope Francis to speak about persecution of Copts
Tellingly, on April 5,2017, Pope Francis received at Vatican four British Imams who urged the pontiff to speak out about the plight of persecuted Christians when he visits Egypt later this month.
Following their meeting with the Pope, the imams also met with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious dialogue, where they impressed upon him the need for the Pope to speak out for embattled Christian minorities when the pontiff travels to Egypt.
On 28-29 April the Pope will be in Egypt for a crucial bridge-building exercise with the Islamic world: he is due to address a conference on peace at Cairo's famous Al-Azhar university. Pope Francis will also meet with the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, who leads a community that have recently come under attack.
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