Release International calls for increased security for Egypt's Christians over Easter.

Release International
Release International

Release International deplores the latest attacks against Egypt's Coptic Christians, the oldest surviving Christian community in the Middle East. Two bomb attacks targeted Palm Sunday worshippers, ahead of Easter, killing at least 44 people.

Release is calling for prayer and increased security to safeguard the largest, oldest remaining Christian community in the region. Release commends Copts for their courage in standing fast in the face of the militants' threat.

The head of the Coptic Church was present at one of the churches targeted, but escaped uninjured.

Release is calling on the Egyptian authorities to step up security over the Easter period. Release is also urging Christians worldwide to stand with Egypt's Coptic believers in prayer.

At least 44 people died when bombs were detonated in two morning services - one at a church in Tanta in the Nile Delta region and one at a cathedral in Alexandria. Both were timed to go off during Palm Sunday services and cause maximum loss of life.

The first bomb went off inside St George's Church in Tanta, about 60 miles north of Cairo. The explosion, near the altar, left at least 27 people dead and more than 70 injured. That church was targeted by bombers last month, but on that occasion the device was found and defused.

In the second attack yesterday, a suicide bomber detonated his device outside St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, killing at least 17 people and injuring more than 30. The dead included four police officers who reportedly intercepted the bomber.

Pope Tawadros II, leader of Alexandria's Coptic Church, was leading a Palm Sunday service in the cathedral at the time, but was reported to be unharmed.

The Egyptian Government has announced three days of mourning.

Islamic State militants later claimed responsibility for the attacks. The same group previously released a video calling on its followers to kill Egyptian Christians.

IS targeted Christians in the coastal city of Al-Arish in northern Sinai in February. They ordered all 11,000 Christians to leave the city or be killed. Within ten days, they had murdered nine Christians, prompting many to flee the area.

The Coptic Orthodox church is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and Copts form the largest remaining Christian community in the Middle East.

Islamic State militants have pledged to take their violent jihad to Europe.

'Through no choice of their own Coptic Christians have found themselves on the frontline of faith in Egypt,' says Paul Robinson, the chief executive of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide.

'They have long been persecuted for their beliefs and the violence has increased dramatically in recent years. It would be a tragedy for the region if Coptic Christians are forced to join the exodus of believers who have been driven out of the lands of the Bible.

'More than that, it would be a tragedy for Europe, too, as the extremists have made it clear that the focus of their attacks would shift to the West. We should be in no doubt that it is in the West's interests to support Egypt in its struggle against extremism.

'What the extremists fail to realise is that the more they attack Egypt's Christians the more determined they become to stand together for their faith,' says Paul Robinson of Release.

'When IS issues threats against churches, church attendance simply increases. Some Coptic commentators say persecution is bringing about a revival in the Coptic Church, with attendance doubling and even trebling after specific threats have been made. Their courage is remarkable.'

A Release partner in Egypt believes the killing and persecution of Egyptian Christians looks set to continue unabated. He writes: 'As long as IS spreads their ideology and the educating of fanatics continues in the country, the persecution and killing of Egyptian Christians will not stop.'

He prays: 'May God have mercy on our country, and may the prayers of the church beyond our borders be a source of strength to the Egyptian church, which stood strong against persecution for 14 centuries.'  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.