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Christian church bombing north Cairo kills 25

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A bomb exploded in a church north of Cairo that was packed with Palm Sunday worshippers, killing at least 25 people and wounding 71 others, officials said, reported CBS News (US).

The attack in the Nile Delta town of Tanta was the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt.

CBC TV showed footage from inside the church, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. Deputy Health Minister Mohammed Sharshar confirmed the toll.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came a week before Easter.
Egyptian authorities condemned the assault as a terrorist attack. Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the state will resume efforts to eradicate terror, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.

“Terrorism hits Egypt again, this time on Palm Sunday,” Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted. “Another obnoxious but failed attempt against all Egyptians.”

Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar -- the leading center of learning in Sunni Islam -- condemned the attack, calling it a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.”

Pope Francis decried the attack and expressed his “deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and the entire dear Egyptian nation.” He said he was praying for the dead and wounded in the attack.

Word of the bombing came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. The pontiff asked God “to convert the hearts of those who spread terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make, and traffic in, weapons.”

In December, a local Islamic State affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a church in Cairo that killed around 30 people, mostly women, as well as a string of killings in the restive Sinai Peninsula that caused hundreds of Christians to flee to safer areas of the country. The group has threatened further attacks.

A militant group called Liwa al-Thawra claimed responsibility for an April 1 bomb attack targeting a police training center in Tanta, which wounded 16 people. The group, believed to be linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has mainly targeted security forces and distanced itself from attacks on Christians.

Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist president.

French President Francois Hollande expressed solidarity with Egypt following Sunday’s deadly church bombing. In a written statement, Hollande said “one more time, Egypt is hit by terrorists who want to destroy its unity and its diversity.”

He said France “mobilizes all its forces in association with the Egyptian authorities in the fight against terrorism,” and offers condolences to the families of the victims.

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