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Dozens die in Palm Sunday blasts at Christian churches in Egypt

By Hamza Hendawi

This is the moment a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed worshippers in a Palm Sunday massacre targeting two Christian churches in Egypt.

At least 43 people have been killed and about 100 more wounded when bombs exploded at two Coptic churches in two Egyptian cities in attacks claimed by Islamic State.

In the first attack a bomb went off inside St George's Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, killing at least 27 people and wounding 78, officials said.

A few hours later a suicide bomber rushed toward St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, killing at least 16 people and wounding 41, the interior ministry said.

The blasts happened as worshippers celebrated Palm Sunday at the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter, and just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit the country at the end of the month.

A man in a blue pullover was seen on CCTV approaching the main gate to St Mark's but being turned away and directed toward a metal detector.

The man then passed a female police officer chatting to another woman, and entered a metal detector before an explosion engulfed the area.

Carpenter Maged Saleh flew into a rage as blood streamed from his arm after he and his mother escaped the explosion.

"Where is the government?" the 27-year-old screamed at onlookers outside the Tanta hospital. "There is no government!"

TV footage from inside the church in Tanta showed people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.

"After the explosion everything became dark from the smoke," said Edmond Edward, attending services with his brother Emil, who was wounded and leaned on him for support at the hospital, his head covered in bandages.

"There was a clear lapse in security, which must be tightened to save lives," he said, adding that the priest leading the service, Father Daniel, was wounded.

Susan Mikhail, whose apartment balcony across the street has a clear view of the church and its front yard, said the explosion shook her building violently.

"Deacons were the first to run out of the church. Many of them had blood on their white robes," she said, adding that survivors later carried out the more seriously wounded who were taken to hospitals in private cars.

Pope Tawadros II, of the Coptic Orthodox Church, had held Palm Sunday services at the cathedral, but his aides said he escaped unharmed. The timing of the attack raised the question of whether the bomber had sought to assassinate Pope Tawadros, leader of one of the world's oldest Christian communities.

IS claimed the attacks via its Aamaq news agency, after recently warning that it would step up violence against Egypt's Christians.

Pope Francis, marking Palm Sunday in St Peter's Square, denounced the bombings, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Church and all of the dear Egyptian nation." US President Donald Trump tweeted that he is "so sad to hear of the terrorist attack".

He added he has "great confidence" that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi "will handle the situation properly".

Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar - the leading centre of learning in Sunni Islam - also condemned the attacks, calling them a "despicable terrorist bombing".

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