President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declares three-month emergency in Egypt after twin attacks on churches

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the twin attacks on churches in two different cities of Egypt on Sunday.

President declares three-month emergency in Egypt after twin attacks on churches
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) stands and observes a minute of silence for the victims of two separate church attacks during Palm Sunday prayers, with leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Council for Police to discuss developments in the security situation in Egypt, as well as developments in the country's fight against terrorism, at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, April 9, 2017. Reuters

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has announced a three-month emergency in the country after the two blasts at churches killed 44 people in two cities on Sunday, the deadliest attacks on the minority in recent memory. Islamic State (ISIS) group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

According to reports, the church bombings took place on Palm Sunday in Alexandria and Tanta. Nearly 30 people died in Tanta, while another 14 were killed in a Coptic church in Alexandria.

The Alexandria church is the seat of the Coptic pope. Coptic Pope Tawadros II was leading the ceremony on Palm Sunday, but reportedly he was unharmed as he left the church before the blast occurred. In response to the attack, Tawadros said: These sinful acts will not undermine the unity of Egyptians against terrorism."

The interior ministry said that the incident was caused by a suicide bomber who blew himself up when prevented from entering the church. The authorities believe that the emergency law will allow police with greater powers for surveillance, seizures and arresting people. It will also limit the freedom of movement of the people.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declares three-month emergency in Egypt after twin attacks on churches
Coffins are seen inside the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday, in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. Reuters

The private CBC Extra channel aired footage of the Alexandria blast, with CCTV showing what appeared to be the church entrance engulfed in flame and flying concrete moments after a guard turned a man away. Several eyewitnesses claimed that a police officer had detected the bomber before he blew himself up.

ISIS claimed two Egyptian suicide bombers carried out both the attacks and the group has also threatened that it would carry out further attacks against Egyptian Christians in a statement published on social media. "A group that belongs to Islamic State carried out the two attacks on the churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria," Amaq, Islamic State's media.

"Let the crusaders and apostates know that they will pay a huge bill with their son's blood," they added in the online statement carried by Amaq.

State television reported that the interior minister sacked the provincial head of security and replaced him after the attack.

Pope Francis, who is due in Cairo on April 28-29, offered prayers for the victims. "Let us pray for the victims of the attack unfortunately carried out today," the Pope said. "May the Lord convert the heart of those who sow terror, violence and death and also the heart of those who make weapons and trade in them," he added.

In December 2016, an attack on a Coptic church in Cairo had killed 25 people. Egypt had been ruled under emergency law, which allows police expanded powers of arrest and surveillance, for decades before 2012.