During the Palm Sunday liturgical services at the church of Saint George in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, a bomber self-detonated, taking the lives of at least 27 and wounding 78 in yet another terrorist attack on the Coptic Church. The church suffered significant structural damage, as the suicide bomber was inside the church at the time of the blast, around 9:30 a.m. local time. Just hours later, a second attack took place at the cathedral of Saint Mark in the coastal city Alexandria. The bomber attempted to enter the church; however, security forces ordered that he pass through the metal detector, at which point, he self-detonated by the entrance. Over 17 people died and 48 suffered injuries, including members of the police force protecting the church.
The patriarch of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, had been praying in the church of Alexandria that day, but was unharmed by the bombing. These attacks are just two of many – a long history of the persecution of the Coptic Church, which is the Middle East’s largest Christian group, exists. Each time, the stakes are higher. Not one, but two, churches were attacked on Sunday, following an attack just months ago last December on the church of Al Botrossiya in Cairo. Furthermore, ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings on Sunday almost immediately after they took place.
NJIT student Abanob Mikaeel, a member of the Coptic Orthodox church here in the States, feels strongly about the terrorist attacks, asking “Until when will the persecution of Christians in the Middle East go unnoticed?” He believes that although these attacks continue to take place, “the media doesn’t really focus on [them]” and that many of the countries in the West are “uncaring.”
In a Tweet he wrote Sunday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump asserted that America condemns this act of terrorism. However, many wonder what further action the Trump administration will take, if any.
In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency. If approved by Parliament, this will allow the government to monitor emails, newspapers, and other forms of written communication. Beyond that, the future is uncertain for Egypt’s Christians.
In a statement from Pope Tawadros, the church condemns this vile act against innocent Christians as well. “We pray to God… to keep Egypt and all her people away from the attacks of hatred that seek destruction of the walls of our nation and the ripping of its human fabric that forms its great heritage of unity, cohesion, and coexistence.” (Coptic World). Although terrorism threatens Egypt and its church, Copts will not be shaken in their beliefs during times like these.
This was evident later on Sunday night: a service took place at Saint George’s Church in Tanta, marking the beginning of “Holy Week,” which is the week preceding Easter. Congregants and clergy gathered around the coffins of many of the victims from the mornings’ attacks. They sang praises with voices of strength, demonstrating their resiliency even in the face of persecution.