Attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt have left 44 dead and more injured. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has announced a three-month state of emergency in response. The measure will not be implemented until it has been approved by parliament. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in Alexandria and Tanta on Palm Sunday and has been recently targeting Copts in Egypt. The attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, and the IS warns of more attacks to come.
Palm Sunday is one of the holiest days of the Christian year and one during which church attendances are higher than average. Christians make up only 10-15% of Egypt’s population. Most Christians in Egypt are Copts. The Coptic church originated in Egypt when Saint Mark was said to have visited in the year 50AD. Services are often performed partly in Coptic, a language derived from Ancient Egyptian. The church is led by the Pope of Alexandria and shares many similarities with the Eastern Orthodox religion.
These attacks preceded a visit from Pope Francis, who was attempting to show support for the nation’s small population of Christians.
Among the churches that were targeted was St. George’s Coptic church in Tanta, leaving 27 dead, and St. Mark’s Coptic church in Alexandria, leaving 17 dead. According to the BBC, the jihadists claimed that “Crusaders and their apostate allies should know the bill between us and them is very big and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, god willing. Wait for us, for we will wait for you.”
As well, the IS were said to have attacked a Coptic church last December, which resulted in 25 deaths in Cairo. BBC News reports that the people of Egypt are shaken and have less trust that the state will be willing or able to protect them from these insurgents. In his speech after the attacks, President Sisi remarked that the war against jihadists would be “long and painful,” which has not resulted in an increased trust from his Christian citizens, despite being backed by the majority of parliament.