Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi declared three days of national mourning and promised justice following a suicide bombing at a Coptic Christian cathedral that left 24 people dead.
Mourners packed the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius church in the eastern Cairo suburb of Nasr City for the funeral of 24 people killed when a suicide bomber attacked the chapel at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo’s largest church and the seat of the Coptic papacy.
The blast was reportedly caused by a bomb containing 26 pounds of TNT, and was detonated on the side of the church reserved for use by women.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who shed tears during the funeral service, called the dead martyrs and sought to calm any tensions caused by the attack, saying the bombing “is not just a disaster for the church but a disaster for the whole nation.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi declared three days of national mourning and has vowed justice for the bombing victims. Many Christians, however, are critical of al-Sissi for failing to provide adequate protection for their community in the wake of continued attacks and discrimination.
Five survivors at the Dar al-Shefa hospital said police did not perform normal checks as the cathedral was busy for the Sunday mass, which took place on a public holiday marking the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.
“There were large numbers so people entered without being searched,” said Mina Francis, who was at the mass with his mother, who was killed.
“There were police cars stationed in front of the church gates … they were too busy eating breakfast and drinking tea and soda. They weren’t doing their job,” said Hani Gaballah, 43, a retired military officer.
Coptic Christians make up approximately 10% of Egypt’s population and strongly supported the military coup that overthrew Mohammed Morsi, a member of the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters launched a wave of attacks against the Christian community following Morsi’s ouster, vandalizing and destroying numerous churches and Christian-owned properties throughout Egypt.
The last major attack on a church took place as worshippers left a New Year’s service in Alexandria just weeks before the start of the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s rule. At least 21 people were killed, while the circumstances surrounding the attack remain a mystery.
While no group has yet to declare responsibility for the attack in Cairo, the Egyptian government is currently battling an Islamic State insurgency in Northern Sinai and conducting a crackdown on the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Islamic State has launched a genocidal campaign against Christians throughout Syria and Iraq, while the number of Christian refugees accepted by the Obama administration is next to nonexistent.
The Coptic Orthodox Church dates back to 50 AD, when Saint Mark the Evangelist is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is considered the first Pope of Alexandria – the head of the Coptic faith. Practitioners of the Coptic faith faced discrimination from the Roman Empire, the Fatimid Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire.