Bloody scene reported from inside Divine Liturgy in Cairo
At least 25 worshipers were killed and 49 wounded by a bombing during Mass in Cairo Sunday. The attack was at St. Peter’s Coptic Orthodox Church, adjacent to the Grand Cathedral of Saint Mark, the seat of Pope Tawadros II. The Coptic leader was traveling in Greece.
Most of the victims were women and children, said Coptic World, a Christian website. The structure of the building was also severely damaged, the site said.
Pope Francis, at the Vatican, said in his Sunday Angelus address, “I want to express my special closeness to my dear brother, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and to his community, praying for the dead and injured.”
“Our prayers are with those whose lives have been so senselessly ended, those who have been injured, and every family and community affected,” Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. “We also pray for every Coptic parish and community across Egypt as they fill their churches this morning, as well as for the broader Egyptian society that fall victim to similar inhumane attacks.”
Egypt’s official MENA news agency said an assailant threw a bomb into the church. But witnesses said the explosion may have been caused by an explosive device planted inside the church.
The attack, which occurred toward the end of Divine Liturgy, came two days after a bomb elsewhere in Cairo killed six policemen. That assault was claimed by a shadowy group that authorities say is linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, according to the Associated Press. No one immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack. Suspicion immediately fell on Islamist extremists, including Egypt’s Islamic State branch, who have staged numerous attacks across the country this year targeting soldiers, police and government officials, said the Washington Post.
AP pointed out that Sunday was a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. AP described the aftermath in bloody detail:
An Associated Press reporter who arrived at the scene shortly after the blast saw blood-stained pews and shards of glass scattered across the chapel’s floor. Men and women wailed and cried outside. AP photos showed a broken pair of ladies’ spectacles on the ground next to a girl’s boots with leopard spots and a pink ribbon.
“I found bodies, many of them women, lying on the pews. It was a horrible scene,” said cathedral worker Attiya Mahrous, who rushed to the chapel after he heard the blast. His clothes and hands were stained with blood and his hair matted with dust.
“I saw a headless woman being carried away,” Mariam Shenouda said as she pounded her chest in grief. “Everyone was in a state of shock. We were scooping up people’s flesh off the floor,” she said.
There attack drew condemnations by government and religious leaders as well as statements of unity between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christians, who account for about 10 percent of the country’s 92 million people. AP reported a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the cathedral to condemn the attack.
Egypt has seen a wave of attacks by Islamic militants since the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, a freely elected leader who hailed from the Brotherhood, in 2013. Many of Morsi’s supporters blamed Christians for supporting the overthrow, and scores of churches and other Christian-owned properties in southern Egypt were ransacked that year.
The authorities have since 2013 waged a sweeping crackdown, jailing thousands of mostly Islamist dissidents and killing hundreds in clashes sparked by demonstrations.