Bombs tore through two Egyptian churches as worshippers were marking Palm Sunday, killing at least 37 people and wounding around 100 in an assault claimed by the Islamic State, reports the AP. In the first attack, a bomb exploded at Saint George church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, killing at least 26 people and wounding more than 70. Later, an explosion hit Saint Mark's Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, killing at least 11 and wounding 35 just after Pope Tawadros II finished services. His aides later told local media that he had escaped unharmed. ISIS claimed the attacks via its Aamaq news agency, after having recently warned that it would step up attacks on Egypt's Christians. The blasts came at the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter, and just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit the Arab world's most populous country.
CBC TV showed footage from inside the church in Tanta, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. Across the street, neighbor Susan Mikhail, whose apartment has a clear balcony view of the church and its front yard, said the explosion violently shook her building midmorning, at a time when the church was packed. "Deacons were the first to run out of the church. Many of them had blood on their white robes," she said. Pope Francis decried the bombings, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church, and all of the dear Egyptian nation." Word of the attacks came as Francis himself was marking Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square. Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar—the leading center of learning in Sunni Islam—likewise condemned the attacks, calling them a "despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents."