Terrorism

Egypt’s Copts return to pray at Tanta church

By Ahmed al-Sharqawi in Cairo

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Egyptian Christians gather for the late night funeral of the victims of a blast which killed worshippers attending Palm Sunday mass at the St. George's Coptic Orthodox Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, north of Cairo, on April 9th. [Stringer/AFP]

Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Church on Sunday (December 3rd) held the first mass since April at St. George's Church in Tanta after it was rehabilitated following a terror attack on Palm Sunday.

St. George's Church was targeted on April 9th by a bombing claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) that killed 27 people.

A second attack the same day struck outside St. Mark's Church in Alexandria, killing 17, after a suicide bomber was prevented from entering the building.

The Armed Forces Engineering Authority was tasked with repairing both churches, after they sustained heavy damages in the attacks.

The first mass following the bombing at St. George's Church was attended by Christian and Muslim public figures.

"The smell of blood which filled the church has been turned into fragrant smells," Tanta Bishop, Anba Paula, said.

"Christians entered the church extremely happily and expressed their joy with ululations after the wounds and pain of separation were healed," he told Al-Mashareq.

"Terrorism will not prevent Christians from performing their religious rites, and all of Egypt will not forget the souls of Muslim and Christian martyrs," he said.

"The pictures of the martyrs will be placed inside the church to honour them," said Anba Paula, expressing his appreciation to the armed forces who worked to rehabilitate the church immediately after the attack.

ISIS is now exposed

The Palm Sunday bombings were part of ISIS's attempts to undermine the country’s unity, said Col. Khaled Okasha, a retired army officer who serves on the National Council for Combating Terrorism.

"The terrorism of ISIS against Copts in the internal provinces has now ended thanks to the security forces and their success in dismantling the cell that carried out the attack," he told Al-Mashareq.

The only cell member who has not yet been arrested is Amr Saad Abbas who has escaped three attempts to arrest him over the year, the last of which was near his birthplace of Abu Tesht in Qena, Okasha said.

ISIS's use of the guise of "defending Islam" has been rebuked as the group kills Muslims and Copts alike, he added.

"The latest [ISIS] attack that targeted the mosque in Rawda village in Bir al-Abed, North Sinai, was the last fig leaf which exposed the group and dissuaded those who thought of joining it," he said.

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