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Egypt arrests 4 over church hit – Suicide bomber behind attack: Sisi

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Egyptian clergymen stand next to the coffins of the victims of a bomb explosion that targeted a Coptic Orthodox Church the previous day in Cairo, during their funeral in the Egyptian capital’s Nasr City neighbourhood on Dec 12. (AFP)

CAIRO, Dec 12, (Agencies): Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said on Monday that a suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed 24 people at Cairo’s main cathedral and security forces had arrested three men and a woman in connection with the bombing. Speaking at a state funeral for the victims, Sisi identified the suicide bomber as 22-year-old Shafik Mahmoud Mohamed Mostafa.

He said security forces were seeking another two fugitives believed to be involved in the attack. He called for tighter laws to help deter future attacks. Speaking to the Coptic Church’s Pope, Tawadros II, during the funeral, Sisi said: “We would not have been able to come to you today, your holiness, before getting some information.” There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, but Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, have been previously targeted by jihadists.

The health ministry on Monday released a new toll saying that 24 people were killed in the attack at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, one more fatality than reported the previous day. Most of the victims were women, authorities have said. The blast also wounded 45 people and 21 of them were still hospitalised, the ministry said. The attack occurred during Sunday service at the church adjacent to Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of Tawadros II.

At Monday’s service, the coffins of the victims were laid in front of the altar, with their names displayed on the side facing the congregation and on the church walls. Candles and large big crosses made of white roses stood next to the coffins. The spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Christians, Pope Tawadros II, led the service.

At one point, the visibly distraught pontiff leaned on his staff and quietly prayed in front of the coffins. He had cut short a visit to Greece and fl ew home on Sunday after the bombing. “God, protect us and your people from the conspiracies of the evil ones,” prayed the Coptic pope, who venerated the coffins with incense. In a sermon, he said: “It is the destiny of our church to offer martyrs and that is why we call it the ‘Church of the Martyrs.” “We are in so much pain over the evil that surrendered all the humanity and feelings that God entrusted in man,” said Tawadros.

“Those who take a life, which is a divine gift, will be granted eternal damnation.” Only victims’ relatives were allowed to attend the service at the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius church in the eastern Cairo suburb of Nasr City. Some of them screamed out in grief or shouted out a victim’s name, while the rest qui-etly sobbed or sat somberly during the service.

Outside the church, scores scuffled with security forces when they were barred from attending the service. An unspecified number of arrests were made, several witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety. “People have a volcano of anger inside their chests,” said Nora Sedki, a Christian government employee who joined a demonstration of several hundred protesters outside the church

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