ISIS

Islamic State claimed two Egyptian suicide bombers were responsible for the blasts and threatened further attacks. Sisi warned that the war against Islamic extremists would be “long and painful”.

According to state television, Gharbia province’s head of security was sacked over angry claims of inadequate protection for Egypt’s Christian minority, ,.

Speaking before Sunday’s bombings, Bishop Anba Angaelos, the head of the Coptic Orthodox church in the UK said, “At the highest level, a lot of attention and care is given to this issue. But the problem is at the local security level”.

“Reports [of attacks] are not taken seriously or investigated robustly. There are a lack of prosecutions and people not being held to account. That almost reinforces a sense of impunity.”

The pope is visiting Cairo on 28 and 29 April at the invitation of the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, and the grand imam of the mosque of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, as well as Catholic bishops and the Egyptian government.

Catholics make up less than 0.5% of Egypt’s population of 95 million. About one in 10 are Christian, overwhelmingly Coptic Orthodox.

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The pope’s visit was “very significant” for both Catholic and Orthodox communities, said Bishop Angaelos. “It’s a wonderful chance for Francis to practically show support for Christians in Egypt and in the Middle East.”

The bishop has claimed that lists of churches and individuals have been released as “desirable targets” by terrorist groups. “Innocent men, women and children have had their lives brutally and tragically ended for no other reason except that they are Christian.”

Islamic extremists accuse Egyptian Christians of supporting the overthrow of Egypt’s former Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013 by military forces headed by Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.

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Last December, 29 people were killed in a bombing at St Peter’s church near the main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo. In February, 40 Christian families fled Al Arish in northern Sinai after the murder of seven people.

According to Jantzen Garnett, an expert on Isis with the Navanti Group analytics company, “it was not until December 2016 when the Islamic State began a systematic campaign to target Coptic Christians in Egypt.

“As the Islamic State is squeezed in Iraq and Syria it often conducts spectacular attacks elsewhere in an attempt to regain the narrative, boost morale and win recruits,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Security is expected to be tight for the pope’s visit, which includes a speech to an international peace conference and a celebration of Mass with the small Catholic community in Cairo.

Bishop Angaelos said: “The world we live in now means there is always a risk. Someone of the profile of Pope Francis – both the head of a church and a head of state – means there will be security protocols in place to protect and safeguard him.”