EGYPTIAN state media say that a bomb explosion in Cairo’s Coptic Christian cathedral on Sunday, December 11, with at least 25 people dead and 49 injured.
The cathedral is the seat of the Coptic Orthodox church and headquarters of its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II.
The attack in the capital city occurred at around 10am local time, in a chapel close to the outer wall of St. Mark’s cathedral while a Sunday service was underway.
Although Egypt’s Christian minority has often been targeted by Islamic militant groups, this is the worst strike in years, with women and children apparently among the victims.
Cathedral worker Attiya Mahrous rushed to the scene after hearing the explosion, and told journalists that he “”found bodies, many of them women, lying on the pews. It was a horrible scene.”
Another witness, speaking to the Associated Press, said: “There were children. What have they done to deserve this? I wish I had died with them instead of seeing these scenes.”
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-day period of national mourning in the aftermath, issuing a defiant statement in which he said: “Vicious terrorism is being waged against the country’s Copts and Muslims. Egypt will emerge stronger and more united from this situation.”
Egyptian Copts constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, comprising around 10 per cent of Egypt’s 90 million population.
They were subject to three decades of discrimination under the reign of former president Hosni Mubarak, who resigned in 2011 following mass public protests.
Just prior to the 2011 uprising, 21 Christians were killed by a suicide bomber at a church in Alexandria, while two people were killed outside St. Mark’s cathedral in 2013.
A large crowd of furious protesters formed outside the cathedral in the wake of this latest attack, with social media videos depicting a number of scuffles as ambulances attempted to reach the church.