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2 Explosions Target Coptic Christians In Churches Across Egypt


Dozens of people have been killed in two separate explosions at Coptic Christian churches in Egypt. The first blast happened during a service to mark Palm Sunday in the city of Tanta, which is north of Cairo. The second attack was a few hours later in Alexandria. We're joined now by Bel Trew. She's the Egypt correspondent for The Times of London, and she's on the road to Tanta now. Thanks for joining us, Bel.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi. Can you tell us what you know about these two explosions?

TREW: Well, what we know is that the death mark - death toll is still mounting. We believe that maybe as many as 18 were killed in Alexandria church, the Mar Girgis church, which - I'm sorry. The Saint Mark's church, which in fact the Coptic pope was attending as he was leading the prayers just during the attack. There was also, of course, an attack in Tanta, which is just north of Cairo, in the Mar Girgis church. There, 26 people were killed and dozens were injured. And the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both attacks what appeared to be in a coordinated attempt to basically terrorize the Christian community on Palm Sunday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do we know if the Coptic pope was the target?

TREW: Well, it looks like the Coptic pope might have been the target in the attack on the Saint Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria. He was leading prayers. It was known that he was going to be leading prayers. He was inside the building. The suicide bomber had attempted to enter the church. He was stopped before he could get in there by security forces. At least three members of the police force were killed, including a female police officer, trying to stop him from getting in. And of course, had he, then it would have been a much higher death toll and extremely devastating if, you know, the Coptic pope himself had been killed in this horrific event.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cops have been targeted before, particularly around religious holidays. Were police expecting some kind of attack? Was security very tight?

TREW: Well, security has been increased around most of the churches in Egypt because of this basically spike in attacks against the Christians, in particular Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 92 million population. So in December, of course, we had the bombing of Egypt's main cathedral, the - which is also the seat of the Coptic pope, which was - basically almost 25 people were killed in that attack in December. And since then, in Sinai, in north Sinai, we've had a massive spike of attacks from (unintelligible) there, leading to dozens of families actually fleeing their homes in north Sinai to areas in the mainland, saying that they're being hunted down. So amongst this kind of spike in attacks, the Eyptian security forces have increased their surveillance of churches. They have got officers posted outside of cathedrals and religious buildings. (Unintelligible) supposed to be manning metal detectors. But as the bombing in, you know, Alexandria showed today, even if you manage to stop someone from entering the church, they can detonate outside and there's no way of preventing that from happening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, we have about 30 seconds left, why - what do you think the reaction is among the Coptic Christians after this horrific attack?

TREW: Well, I think from a lot of Christians here, it's one of terror. It really does build into the concerted effort by groups like the Islamic State to target the Christian community. Their homes, their churches are not safe. And the security forces are clearly trying but failing to protect people, especially as - you know, this attack, they targeted the Coptic pope. So I think they're going to be anxious in the coming days, particularly as we have Easter on the horizon and the visit by the Catholic pope at the end of the month. So, you know, I think people at the moment are going to be extremely worried for their safety.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bel Trew, Egypt correspondent for The Times of London, thanks so much for joining us.

TREW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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