TANTA - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed responsibility for bombing two Egyptian churches as worshippers gathered to mark Palm Sunday, killing at least 43 people in the deadliest attacks on the Coptic Christian minority in recent memory.
The attacks followed a Cairo church bombing in December and came weeks ahead of a planned visit by Catholic Pope Francis intended to show support for the country's Christian minority.
The first bombing struck the Mar Girgis church in the city of Tanta, north of Cairo, killing 27 people, the Health Ministry said.
Emergency services had scrambled to the scene when another bombing rocked the Saint Mark's church in Alexandria, where Coptic Pope Tawadros II had been leading a Palm Sunday service.
Sixteen people were killed in that attack, which the Interior Ministry said was caused by a suicide bomber who blew himself up when police prevented him from entering the church.
The ministry said Pope Tawadros was unharmed, and a church official said he had left the church before the bombing, AFP reported.
At least 78 people were wounded in Tanta and another 40 wounded in Alexandria, the Health Ministry said.
In Tanta, news footage showed people gathered at the church, singing hymns, CNN reported. The video then quickly switches to bars as harrowing screams and cries echo in the background.
"Everything is destroyed inside the church" and blood can be seen on marble pillars, said Mr Peter Kamel, who saw the aftermath of the carnage.
It appeared that the explosive device was placed near the altar, he said. Priests and the church choir were among the casualties.
Thousands gathered outside the church in Tanta shortly after the blast, some wearing black, crying, and describing a scene of bloodshed, Reuters reported.
"There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered," said a Christian woman who was inside the church.
"There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe," another Christian woman, Ms Vivian Fareeg, said.
"I found people torn up... some people, only half of their bodies remained," said Mr Nabil Nader, who lives in front of the Tanta church.
In Alexandria, the Interior Ministry said in a statement that police assigned to St Mark's stopped a terrorist with an explosive belt from breaking into the church.
Along with civilians, a policeman, a policewoman and other police staff were killed.
Egyptian blogger Maged Butter told CNN he saw five or six ambulances and bloodstains 100m away from the site of the explosion, near the church gate.
He said women were crying and looking for their loved ones and yelling at police for not protecting them.
"Every now and then, I see a person crying - I think they are Christians - and they keep saying, 'Have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?'" Mr Butter said.
This article was first published on Apr 10, 2017.
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