Suicide Bombers Target Egyptian Coptic Churches

As of 9th April, Egypt has declared a three-month state of emergency after blasts target Coptic churches. Targeting the religious group, in a statement released on its Amag website,  the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have claimed responsibility for both attacks. Using suicide vests, the two bombers were able to cause an explosion inside a church in the Egyptian Nile Delta city of Tanta and in front of a church in the coastal city of Alexandria. The bombings were several hours apart and left over 71 people wounded and, at least, 21 civilians and 9 police officers killed. On social media, some have praised at least two police officers who were witnessed trying to stop one the bombers from entering the church, which caused them to lose their lives in the process. The officers have not yet been identified.

In a report by Al Jazeera, Samer Shehata, an associate professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar, brought up the argument that the attacks show a “tremendous security lapse” by Egyptian authorities. There have been an increased number of attacks on Egyptian Copts lately, and the church in Tanta had received a threat 10 days ago. Shehata stated, “I do think this represents a lack of seriousness on the part of the state in really securing the Coptic community and places that could potentially be attacked.” With that said, these bombings were the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, who make up about 10 percent of the population and have been repeatedly targeted by armed groups. Many Coptic Christian families have already fled some cities, notably in Sinai, Egypt in February, following the warnings of attacks by ISIL and murders targeting their community in El Arish.

Following the blasts, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered that troops be deployed across the country to help secure vital facilities. Under Egypt’s constitution, the state of emergency must be presented to the House of Representatives for approval within a seven-day period. The emergency law expands police powers of arrest, surveillance and seizures, and can limit the freedom of movement. Sisi last declared a state of emergency following the overthrow of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Part of North Sinai, where ISIL’s Egyptian affiliate is based, is still under a state of emergency. Hopefully, the three-month period will be long enough for Egypt to deal with this very volatile threat to the nation.

S.M. Murtasim Shah