A bomb blast at a church north of Cairo killed at least 21 people and wounded dozens who had gathered for Palm Sunday mass, state media reported, in the latest apparent attack on Egypt’s Coptic Christians.
Some 40 people were wounded in the blast, which struck at a Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometres north of Cairo, the reports said.
The attack in the Nile Delta town of Tanta was the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic militants. It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt.
Palm Sunday is one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, marking the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem.
CBC TV showed footage from inside the church, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.
Magdi Awad, the head of the provincial ambulance service, confirmed the toll.
Provincial governor Ahmad Deif told the channel that at least 42 people were wounded and that the explosion occurred inside the church.
“Either a bomb was planted or someone blew himself up,” Deif said, adding that security forces had searched the church and surrounding areas for additional explosive devices.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s blast.
Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, have been targeted by several attacks in recent months.
Militants accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
In December, a suicide bombing claimed by the militant Islamic State group killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo.
The bombing of the church within a compound that also holds the seat of the Coptic papacy was the deadliest attack against the minority in recent memory.
A spate of militant attacks in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led some Coptic families to flee their homes.
About 250 Christians took refuge in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya after IS released a video in February calling for attacks on the religious minority.
Egypt’s army is waging a counter-insurgency against an IS affiliate in Sinai, which has claimed scores of attacks against police and army positions.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief helped the military to remove Morsi, defended his security forces in a televised address soon afterwards.
“(The attacks aim to) destabilise the fabric of Egypt… to give the impression that one group isn’t protected as it should be,” Sisi said at the time.
Following Morsi’s ouster, mobs attacked dozens of churches and Christian properties.
Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29 to show solidarity with Egypt’s Christian community.
The pontiff will visit the site of the December church attack next to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral ─ the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II.