Mounting death toll as blasts hit churches in Tanta, Alexandria

Two bomb blasts have hit Coptic churches in Egypt today, with the latest blast in front of a church in Alexandria,  marking a day of carnage on Palm Sunday, the holiest day for the Coptic community.

The blast occurred hours after a bombing rocked a Coptic church in Tanta in Egypt’s Nile Delta, killing at least 30 people and injuring 70.

The Alexandria blast was a suicide bombing, state news reported. Egypt's Interior Ministry says the blast in Alexandria was caused by a suicide bomber who tried to storm the entrance before being stopped by police.

ISIS later claimed the attacks via its Aamaq news agency, after having recently warned it would step up attacks on Egypt’s Christians.

State television initially reported 16 dead, including three policemen, and 35 injured in the explosion near Saint Mark's Church in the coastal city. Egypt's Coptic church said Pope Tawadros II had attended Palm Sunday mass there. But the death toll continued to grow through the afternoon.

In the Vatican, Pope Francis has decried a deadly attack on a Coptic church in Egypt during Palm Sunday celebrations, just weeks before his planned visit to Cairo. The Pope was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square.

The first bombing inside the church in Egypt's Tanta, north of Cairo, Al Arabiya News Channel reported, killed many people  and  injured around many more.

The blast struck the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta as the Coptic Christian community marked Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar. It marks the triumphant entrance of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem.

Al Azhar, Egypt's leading authority has condemned the attack, describing the blast as a "crime against all Egyptians."

Provincial governor Ahmad Deif told state television that many people were wounded and that the explosion occurred inside the church.

"Either a bomb was planted or someone blew himself up," Deif said, adding that security forces had searched the church and surrounding areas for additional explosive devices.

Meanwhile, Egyptian activists and users on Twitter have launched a blood donation campaign for assisting the victims of the Tanta church attack that left dozens of casualties.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 85 million. They have largely coexisted peacefully with the majority-Muslim public for centuries.

Last December, 25 people were killed and 49 wounded in an explosion that targeted the Cathedral of Saint Mark in the Abbasia district in Cairo - the city's largest Coptic cathedral.

A spate of militant-linked attacks in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led some Coptic families to flee their homes.

About 250 Christians took refuge in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya after ISIS released a video in February calling for attacks on the religious minority.

Egypt's army is waging a counter-insurgency against an ISIS affiliate in Sinai, which has claimed scores of attacks against police and army positions.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief helped the military to remove Morsi, defended his security forces in a televised address soon afterwards.

"(The attacks aim to) destabilize the fabric of Egypt... to give the impression that one group isn't protected as it should be," Sisi said at the time.

Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo this month to show solidarity with Egypt's Christian community.

The pontiff will visit the site of the December church attack next to Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral -- the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II.

Source: Al Arabiya