Tight security and grief have cast a shadow on Easter Mass services for Egypt's Coptic Christians just days after 45 people died in twin church bombings. The militant "Islamic State" group claimed the Palm Sunday blasts.
Members of Egypt's Christian minority observed traditional Easter services across the country on Saturday following twin blasts last Sunday that killed 45 people.
Several security agents could be seen surrounding Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II as he entered St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, where he led the mass. Worshipers passed through three metal detectors outside St. Mark's Cathedral while soldiers and policemen stood guard outside.
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Last Sunday, two suicide bombers struck a Coptic cathedral in Alexandria and a church in Tanta during Palm Sunday services, wounding over 100 people and killing dozens. Coptic Pope Tawadros had been leading the mass at the cathedral in Alexandria at the time of the blast, but was not injured.
Rafiq Bishry, head of the organizational committee for St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, told Reuters Television that he was surprised that so many people had come to the services despite the security risks.
"This is a clear message to the whole world that we are not afraid," he told Reuters.
The militant "Islamic State" group claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks, vowing in an earlier statement to continue targeting the country's Coptic Christian community.
Egypt's Interior Ministry announced that there would be heightened security measures on Saturday, creating 400 meter security cordons around churches. Bomb squads also scanned churches around the country on Saturday, an official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
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After the attacks last Sunday, the Egyptian government introduced a three-month state of emergency, giving it sweeping powers to act against what it determines to be enemies of the state.
During his Good Friday sermon, Pope Tawadros announced that the celebratory aspects of Easter would be cancelled this year since mourning for the victims of the church bombings was ongoing.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians break a 55-day fast that includes abstaining from all animal products following Saturday's mass.
The Coptic Church is one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, and its members make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population. Although Copts have lived alongside Egypt's Muslim majority for centuries, in recent years Christian churches have repeatedly been targeted by sectarian violence.
rs/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)