The photographs of the destruction show shattered pews, smashed windows and pools of blood; Egypt’s Christians are in mourning, reeling from the deadliest church attack in recent memory.
At around 10am on Sunday morning (11 December), a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Coptic Christian church in Cairo, during a communion service. Twenty-four Christians, including up to 22 women, were murdered and as many as 65 people injured, although the death toll is expected to rise. Christian women and children appear to have been deliberately targeted by the blast, as the bomber detonated his explosives in the part of the church where many women and children often sit. Following the bombing, a crowd of hundreds gathered outside the church to call for justice, claiming that police and government had failed to protect the Christian community.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been linked to a bombing near the Giza pyramids which killed six policemen on Friday, has denied any involvement. Islamic State (IS) has previously targeted Egyptian Christians. In June 2016, IS murdered a church leader in northern Sinai, where the Egyptian government has been engaged in a long-running struggle in attempts to defeat militant groups affiliated to IS.
Violence against Christians is sadly not uncommon in Egypt. After President Mohammad Morsi was ousted from power in 2013, more than 60 churches were destroyed in a wave of attacks encouraged by the Muslim Brotherhood against the Christian minority, who comprise approximately 10% of the country’s population (around 9.4 million in total). Although President al-Sisi’s government has taken some action to support believers – the President also condemned the recent church bombing as a “terrorist act” – sectarian attacks on Christians remain frequent.
Sunday’s calculated and vicious bombing of a church service is part of a global pattern of attacks on church buildings and meetings, which has witnessed attacks on churches in Indonesia, Nigeria and across the Middle East. Today, it is Christians in Egypt in the firing line. Where next?