Anger mounts as Copts gather for Egypt funerals

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters
Anger mounts as Copts gather for Egypt funerals

Relatives of the victims of Sunday’s bombing at Alexandria’s Coptic cathedral are gathering at the Monastery of Saint Mina for the funeral service.

We have the possibility of repeated and continued attacks against soft targets

H.A. Hellyer Senior non-resident fellow, the Atlantic Council and RUSI

Coffins of the 17 people who died were lined up on the tiled square outside the monastery.

Was there heavy security?

Yes. Police checked cars as they entered the grounds. Hundreds of people gathered outside while dozens of tanks lined parts of the road from Cairo.

What happened on Sunday?

The blast in Egypt’s second-largest city came hours after a bomb struck in a Coptic church in Tanta. 27 died and almost 80 were injured in the attack in the nearby city on the Nile Delta.

Coming on Palm Sunday, when Christians mark the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, the bombings appear to have been designed to spread fear among Copts.

They make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population.

Has anyone admitted being behind the attacks?

Yes. Both were claimed by ISIL. The group has waged a campaign against Egypt’s Christian minority, the largest in the Middle East.

ISIL has waged a low-level campaign against soldiers and police in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula for many years.

On Sunday, the group warned of more attacks and boasted it had killed 80 people in three church bombings since December.

What are the analysts saying?

They suggest that ISIL, under pressure in Iraq and Syria, is trying to broaden its threat and has identified Christian communities as an easier target.

ISIS are deeply sectarian, that’s nothing new, but they have decided to re-emphasize that aspect in Egypt over the past few months,” says H.A.Hellyer, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Royal United Services Institute.

“Christian targets are easier – churches are far more difficult to fortify than, say, an army barracks or a police station. It is a disturbing development because it indicates we have the possibility of repeated and continued attacks against soft targets.”

What has the Coptic community said?

The Copts, whose presence in Egypt dates to the Roman era, have long complained of religious persecution. They accuse the state of not doing enough to protect them.

There is anger in Tanta at the perceived lax security. Many say the police have not stepped up efforts to protect them, despite warnings of an attack.

A senior police official told reporters a bomb was discovered and disabled near the Tanta church about a week ago.

“That should have been an alarm or a warning that this place is targeted,” said 38-year-old Amira Maher. “Especially on Palm Sunday, a day when many people gather, more than any other time in the year. I don’t know how this happened.”

State of emergency approved

The nationwide state of emergency declared by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was agreed by the cabinet on Monday.

It is expected to be approved by parliament within seven days in order to remain in place.

“The armed forces and police will do what is necessary to confront the threats of terrorism and its financing,” the cabinet said in a statement.

Measures would be taken to “maintain security across the country, protect public and private property and the lives of citizens.”

Fears for the Pope’s visit

The attacks have also heightened concerns ahead of a visit to Cairo by the Roman Catholic Pope Francis, planned for April 28-29.

The Coptic Pope Tawadros was leading the mass in Alexandria’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral when the bomb exploded. The Interior Ministry has confirmed he was not harmed.