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The New Arab

Survivors recall horror of Egypt church blast

A bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to attend the Palm Sunday mass [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 April, 2017

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Witnesses and survivors of twin bombings that killed 44 people at Tanta and Alexandria churches as worshipers marked Palm Sunday speak of horrific scenes and security failure.

Coptic Christian worshippers in Egypt spoke of horrific scenes on Sunday after a bomb ripped through their church during a service, mangling bodies and destroying pews.

Along with his wife and child, Mina Imad survived the blast at the Mar Girgis church in Tanta by a "miracle".

The three had left the building 10 minutes earlier because Mina's son had asked to go to the bathroom.

As they returned to attend Palm Sunday mass, the power of the blast threw them to the ground, but they were not hurt.

Others, including his cousin and other relatives, were not so fortunate.

The explosion killed at least 27 people, and was followed hours later by a second bombing at a church in Alexandria, which killed 17.

The Islamic State group has claimed two Egyptian suicide bombers carried out both attacks and threatened further attacks in a statement published on social media.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared during a defiant speech on Sunday night a three-month state of emergency, warning that the war against the militants "will be long and painful".

In hospital, a wounded witness told state television: "I just felt fire grabbing my face. I pushed my brother who was sitting next to me and then I heard people saying: 'explosion'."

Nabil Nader, 65, who lives opposite the church in Tanta, spoke of the attack's aftermath and said the first three rows of pews in the church were destroyed.

"I heard the blast and came running. I found people torn up... some people, only half of their bodies remained," he said.

Nearby, a man held up a burned prayer book and a traditional braided palm-leaf crucifix, stained with blood. 

"They came to pray and they died," he said.

Pictures later emerged of Muslims gathering in mosques to donate blood to the victims of the attacks.

Police sirens wailed incessantly around the city as ambulances ferried victims to hospital.

Security forces cordoned off the church, but residents who gathered nearby were unable to hide their anger.

Despite the presence of metal detectors, the bomber was apparently able to enter the building without any hindrance.

"How was the bomb able to enter, while police" were outside the church, asked Nagat Assaad, holding back tears.

"What are the detectors for? We don't want their protection."

Witnesses told The New Arab that the security guards at the church did not stop or search anyone before entering the building, though access to the church was blocked by the police several hours after the attack.

"What's the use of closing the street now? You should have done it before the explosion!" she said.

There were similar scenes at St. Mark's church in Alexandria after the attack there.

Shards of glass littered the street and pavement outside the door where the suicide bomber activated his explosive belt.

Hussein, a salesman in a shop opposite the church who witnessed the Alexandria blast, said he was "blown over by the shockwave" and fell to the ground.

Egypt's Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt's population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, say they feel abandoned and discriminated against by the authorities in the predominantly Muslim country.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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