One suicide bomber had worked in Kuwait: Al-Arabiya

BORG EL-ARAB, Egypt: Mourners carry the coffin of one of the victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark s Church in Alexandria the previous day during a funeral procession at the Monastery of Marmina in this city of east of Alexandria yesterday. — AFP

ALEXANDRIA: Hundreds gathered yesterday to mourn 45 Egyptian Christians killed in twin bombings just a week before Easter, after Cairo declared a state of emergency following the attacks on two churches. The Islamic State group said it was behind the bombings that targeted Palm Sunday services at churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria, and threatened further attacks against Egypt's Christian minority.

Sunday's first bombing at the Mar Girgis church in Tanta city north of Cairo killed 28 people, the health ministry said. The second struck outside Saint Mark's church in Alexandria, killing 17 people after a suicide bomber was prevented from entering the building. The violence comes ahead of Catholic Pope Francis's first trip to Egypt later this month, which a Vatican official said will proceed as planned on April 28 and 29 despite the attacks.

Initial reports about the Alexandria suicide bomber said he was known as Abu Ishaq Al-Masri. He was born in Sept 1990 in Menia Al-Qamah and held a degree in commerce, according to an Al-Arabiya report. The report added that the suspect worked as an accountant in Kuwait for four months before he travelled to Turkey on Dec 26, 2013 and onwards to Syria, before he returned to Sinai. The report said the Tanta bomber in was born in Dec 1974 in Kafr Al-Shaikh and held a technical diploma. He was married with three children and travelled to Syria on Aug 15, 2013.

Mourners filled the Saint Mina monastery west of Alexandria yesterday as they bade farewell to the victims of the deadliest attacks in recent memory on Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. The victims' wooden coffins were placed near the altar amid applause as mourners saluted their "martyrs". During the funerals, angry crowds denounced the security services and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar. "Leave, leave, Abdel Ghaffar!" mourners chanted. "I am a Christian till judgment day," they shouted.

In Alexandria yesterday, investigators combed for clues and took pictures of the debris produced by the blast. A handful of black-clad women showed their identification papers to guards before being allowed to enter the church. "I'm so sad, I cannot speak," said one mourner, a woman in her 40s. In addition to the death toll of 45 from the two explosions, scores more people were wounded and 35 remained in hospital yesterday.

In Cairo, the cabinet said it has approved President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's decision to declare a three-month state of emergency, which was published yesterday by the official gazette. The state of emergency came into effect at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT). Constitutionally, it still has to be presented to and approved by parliament within seven days, but this is a formality given the number of pro-Sisi delegates.

US President Donald Trump called Sisi after the bombings to express his condolences, Washington said yesterday. "The President also expressed his confidence in President Al Sisi's commitment to protect Christians and all Egyptians," the White House said. In a defiant speech on Sunday, Sisi warned that the war against militants would be "long and painful" after he ordered the army to protect "vital infrastructure" and boost security along Egypt's borders.

The cabinet yesterday announced compensation of 100,000 pounds ($5,500) for each death, and a monthly pension of 1,500 pounds, while still evaluating "appropriate compensation" for the injured. Lawmakers said the state of emergency - Egypt's first since widespread unrest in 2013 - would help the country face down an insurgency. IS has staged deadly attacks in the Sinai Peninsula against security forces. Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt's population of more than 92 million, have been targeted several times in recent months.

Jihadists groups such as IS, and Islamists accuse Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters. In December, a suicide bombing claimed by IS killed 29 worshippers in a Cairo church, and the jihadist group later released a video threatening Egypt's Christians.

Attacks in the Sinai, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also torched, prompted some Coptic families to flee. Sunday's Alexandria bombing was especially concerning for the Copts, as Pope Tawadros II had led the Palm Sunday service at Saint Mark's but left before the explosion. Sisi has defended the performance of his security forces and accused militants of trying to divide Egyptian society by attacking vulnerable minorities. But the pro-state daily paper Al-Bawaba said on its website that its Monday edition, which was critical of security provisions, had been banned from publication. - Agencies