CAIRO — Easter Mass celebrations were held amid fear and grief in churches across Egypt on Saturday, after twin bombs killed 45 people in churches in Alexandria and Tanta earlier this week on Palm Sunday.
At least eight security agents could be seen surrounding Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II as he entered St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope, where he led prayers with several ministers in attendance.
The Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt is by far the country’s largest Christian denomination, representing roughly ten percent of the national population of 82 million, and forming the most sizable Christian community in the entire Middle East.
Pope Tawadros had earlier announced during his Good Friday sermon that, as mourning for the attack’s victims was ongoing, the celebratory aspects of Easter would be canceled this year, including the Easter morning reception.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry heightened security measures on the day, creating 400-meter radius security cordons around churches barring vehicles. Additionally, bomb squads scanned churches across the country for suspicious objects, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to brief the media.
On Sunday, a suicide bomber was able to make his way to the front rows of a church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta before blowing himself up. While in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, another attacker detonated his suicide vest at the church gate’s metal detector after being stopped by security.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings, after vowing in an earlier statement to continue targeting the country’s Coptic Christian minority.