Palm Sunday bombings are the latest in a string of attacks against Egypt's Christians

Egypt's largest religious minority has endured turbulent times in recent years.

ByABC News
April 10, 2017, 2:08 PM

— -- Egyptian Christians, who endured two deadly church bombings on Palm Sunday for which ISIS claimed credit, have long been targeted for attacks in the Arab world's most populous country.

Egypt's Christian minority make up about 10 percent of the country's population, according to a recent estimate by the CIA, or roughly 9 million people, and have endured attacks in the region that date back centuries, usually at the hands of Muslim extremists.

Many of Egypt's Christians are Coptic, a centuries-old sect influenced by the apostle and evangelist Mark, who is believed by many to have brought the teachings of Christ to that country in the first century A.D.

Women cry during the funeral for those killed in a Palm Sunday church attack in Alexandria Egypt, at the Mar Amina church, April 10, 2017.
Samer Abdallah/AP Photo

Others Christians in Egypt are Catholic or Anglican.

Recently, as Egypt has been caught up in a state of political volatility, the threat of violence has worsened, according to human rights groups.

Egypt's Christians were largely supportive of the military overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi and were vocally critical of his Sunni Muslim organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, with some concerned that their minority community was not adequately protected under Morsi's rule.

Today, some Arab Christians who spoke to ABC News mulled whether the current government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is able to protect Christians either, especially given the difficulty of detecting lone wolf and suicide attacks.

Here's a look at some of the more prominent attacks that have been waged against Egyptian Christians since the start of the decade:


A gunman killed six Coptic parishioners and an off-duty Muslim police officer in Nag Hammadi, Qena, in January of 2010, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign-policy think tank.

Egyptian Copts mourn over the coffin of a victim of deadly clashes, during a funeral at Abassaiya Cathedral in Cairo, Oct. 10, 2011, a day after 24 people, mostly Christians, died in clashes with Egyptian security forces.
Mohammed Hossam/AFP/Getty Images


The year 2011, when the Egyptian Revolution took place, was also an extremely violent one for Egypt's Christians. It was a phenomenon that led to some feelings of disenchantment and skepticism about the political upheaval going on in the country from members of the country's biggest religious minority.

On New Year's Day of 2011, a car bomb at the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria killed 23 people who had come there to pray. The New York Times reported on blood "visible high on the front walls of the church" and dismembered bodies strewn along the street outside.

Two Martyrs Church, which was situated in Atfeeh, Helwan, was torched in March, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which noted that both Christians and Muslims died in protests after the arson.

A group of Egyptians clashed in May after a crowd of Muslims attacked a church in Imbaba, Egypt, according to the BBC. Fifteen people, including at least four Copts, died in the clashes, according Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In October of 2011, mostly Christian protesters took to the streets after an attack on a church in the Aswan province that they blamed on Muslim radicals. They were marching toward the Maspero television building on the bank of the Nile in Cairo when things turned violent. The protesters were first assaulted by attackers in plain clothes before clashes with government security forces broke out, according to BBC News.

The BBC called it "the worst violence in Egypt since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted," after the Egyptian Revolution, and at least 24 died in the encounter, many of them Christians.

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging the Egyptian government to investigate crimes against Christian minorities, after the clashes.

“Time and again since February, the Egyptian military has used excessive force in responding to protests,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement at the time. “The high death toll from the clashes on October 9 shows the urgent need for thorough investigations that lead to accountability and better protection for the Coptic community.”


Violence erupted in April of 2013 when five Copts and one Muslim man were shot and killed in al-Khusus, greater Cairo, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Two days later, the think-tank reported, mourners were besieged at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo.

In August, Jessi Boulus, a Christian schoolgirl, was shot to death while walking home from a bible study class in Cairo. She was 10 years old, according to BBC News.

"She was my best friend, my everything. Jessi was just becoming a young woman," her mother, Phoebe, told the BBC. "Every woman dreams of becoming a mother, and for 10 years I was lucky enough to be a mum. I'll miss Jessi calling me mum - I know I won't ever hear it again."

Coptic Pope Tawadros II officiates a mass in memory of the victims of the explosion at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, on the 40th day after the attacks, at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church in Cairo, Jan. 23, 2017.
Samer Abdallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Abdel Fattah el-Sisi assumed power in March of 2014, but Egyptian Christians remained skeptical that they were protected from attacks.

Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the leader of the Coptic church there, claimed that after el Sisi's rise, attacks on Copts occurred monthly, according to Coptic Solidarity, an activist group devoted to achieving equal citizenship for followers of their religion in Egypt.

PHOTO: This file image made from a video released Feb. 15, 2015 by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to the Islamic State group purportedly shows Egyptian Coptic Christians in jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant.
This file image made from a video released Feb. 15, 2015 by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to the Islamic State group purportedly shows Egyptian Coptic Christians in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant.
AP Photo


In February of 2015, the terror group ISIS published a horrific video showing members of their group, dressed in black, leading a group of Egyptian Coptic Christian migrant workers kidnapped from Sirte, Libya, across the shoreline of a beach that was said to be located in the Libyan province of Tripoli, according to Al Jazeera.

The men, dressed in orange jumpsuits, were beheaded.

Reuters reported that after the release of the horrific video, mourners gathered at the Coptic church in al-Our village south of Cairo, a place from which more than half of the victims hailed.

There, Reuters reported, a man cried because he lacked the money to stop his son from having to work in Libya.

"Oh Kerollos, this is your wedding party ... I'm very sorry my son, because I did not have enough money to keep you from going to this place," he cried.

PHOTO: Egyptian security forces inspect the scene of a bomb explosion at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, Dec. 11, 2016, in Cairo's Abbasiya neighborhood.
Egyptian security forces inspect the scene of a bomb explosion at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, Dec. 11, 2016, in Cairo's Abbasiya neighborhood. The blast killed at least 25 worshippers during Sunday mass inside the Cairo church near the seat of the Coptic pope who heads Egypt's Christian minority, state media said. / AFP / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images


A December bombing in Cairo's largest Coptic cathedral in December killed at least 25 and wounded dozens more, many of them women and children, according to a report by Reuters.


Egypt declared a state of emergency after twin bomb blasts in churches that were packed for Palm Sunday services Sunday, killing at least 44 people and injuring at least 126 others, according to Egyptian officials.

The attacks, which were claimed by ISIS, followed warnings by the terrorist group that it would escalate attacks on Egypt's Christians.

The first exploded in a Coptic Christian church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, and the second several hours later at Saint Mark's Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt.

ISIS claimed that the blasts were the work of suicide bombers who detonated explosive vests at the churches.

President el-Sisi said in an address to his people that security forces would step up their efforts to hunt down those responsible for planning the attacks, and that the media should exercise caution in how they cover the ensuing investigation.

Chantal Labib, a 24-year-old school teacher, told ABC News she saw news of the blasts on TV before she went to Palm Sunday services at another church in Heliopolis, Cairo.

"Coptic churches are very distinct," Labib said of the often-ancient buildings that have long drawn many tourists in Egypt. From now on, she said, "the shape of the church and the pews [will] remind me of blood and dead bodies."

ABC News’ Randa Ali contributed to this report.

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