UPDATE: Death toll raises to 25 following church bombing in Egypt

Published April 9th, 2017 - 10:07 GMT
The site of a previous bombing at a church in Egypt. (AFP/File)
The site of a previous bombing at a church in Egypt. (AFP/File)

A bomb exploded in a church north of Cairo that was packed with Palm Sunday worshippers, killing at least 25 people and wounding 50 others, state television said on Sunday.

The attack took place in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, north of Cairo.

It was the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. It comes just one week before Coptic Easter and the same month as Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt.

Pope Francis has condemned the attack, and called on terrorists, arms manufacturers and traffickers to stop.

The pontiff expressed his “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation,” and said he was praying for the dead and wounded in the attack. Word of the bombing came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square.

The pontiff asked God “to convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons.”

Video footage and images reportedly taken from inside the church showed a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. 

“There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe. I saw the intestines of those injured and legs severed entirely from their bodies,” Vivian Fareeg told Reuters by phone.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the cause of the blast was not known. However, ISIS’ branch in Egypt appears to be stepping up attacks on Christians and threatening them in messages blasted out to followers.

A local ISIS affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a church in Cairo in December that killed around 30 people, mostly women, as well as a string of killings in the restive Sinai Peninsula that caused hundreds of Christians to flee to safer areas of the country.

A militant group called Liwa al-Thawra claimed responsibility for an April 1 bomb attack targeting a police training center in Tanta, which wounded 16 people. The group, believed to be linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has mainly targeted security forces and distanced itself from attacks on Christians.

Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist president.

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