Daesh claims Palm Sunday bombings of Egyptian churches; death toll rises to 44

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A general view shows forensics collecting evidence at the site of a bomb blast which struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometers north of Cairo, on Sunday. (AFP)
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A general view shows forensic specialists collecting evidence at the site of a bomb blast which struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, north of Cairo, on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 09 April 2017

Daesh claims Palm Sunday bombings of Egyptian churches; death toll rises to 44

TANTA,Egypt/CAIRO: At least 44 people were killed in bomb attacks on the symbolic cathedral seat of the Coptic Pope and another church on Palm Sunday, prompting anger and fear among Christians and troop deployments across Egypt.
Daesh (Arabic Acronym for Islamic State) claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also injured more than 100 people and occurred a week before Coptic Easter, with Pope Francis scheduled to visit Egypt later this month.
The assault is the latest on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants, and a challenge to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who has pledged to protect them as part of his campaign against extremism.
The first bombing, in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100 km (60 miles) north of Cairo, tore through the inside of St. George Church during its Palm Sunday service, killing at least 27 people and injuring at least 78, the Ministry of Health said.
The second, carried out a few hours later by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers, and injuring 48, the ministry added.
Coptic Pope Tawadros had been leading the mass at Saint Mark’s Cathedral at the time of the explosion but was not injured, the Interior Ministry said.
“These acts will not harm the unity and cohesion of the people,” he was later quoted as saying by state media.
El-Sisi ordered troops be immediately deployed to assist police in securing vital facilities, a statement from his office said, a rare move for the general-turned-president, who as defense chief led the military’s 2013 ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Mursi.
Deflecting Western criticism that he has suppressed political opposition and human rights activists since he was elected in 2014, El-Sissi has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the Middle East.
“The attack...will only harden the determination (of the Egyptian people) to move forward on their trajectory to realize security, stability and comprehensive development,” El-Sissi said in a statement.
President Trump, who hosted El-Sissi last week in his first official visit to the US, expressed support for a leader he has said he plans to work more closely with on fighting Islamist militants, who El-Sissi identifies as an existential threat.
“So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. US strongly condemns. I have great confidence that President El-Sissi will handle situation properly,” Trump wrote on his official Twitter account.
Hundreds gathered outside the Tanta church shortly after the blast, some weeping and wearing black while inside, blown apart pews sat atop tiles soaked with blood.
“There was blood all over the floor and body parts scattered,” a woman who was inside the church at the time of the attack said.
“There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe,” another woman, Vivian Fareeg, said.


“We feel targeted“
Daesh’s branch in Egypt has stepped up attacks and threats against Christians, who comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people and are the biggest Christian minority in the Middle East.
In February, scores of Christian families and students fled Egypt’s North Sinai province after a spate of targeted killings.
Those attacks followed one of the deadliest on Egypt’s Christian minority, when a suicide bomber hit its largest Coptic cathedral, killing at least 25 people. Daesh later claimed responsibility for that attack.
Daesh has waged a low-level war against soldiers and police in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for years but is now targeting Christians and broadening its reach into Egypt’s mainland. That is a potential turning point in a country trying to prevent a provincial insurgency spiraling into wider sectarian bloodshed.
Although Copts have faced attacks by Muslim neighbors, who have burnt their homes and churches in poor rural areas, in the past, the community has felt increasingly insecure since Islamic State spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014.

WATCH: Copts rally outside second Alexandria church hit by suicide bomber

“Of course we feel targeted, there was a bomb here about a week ago but it was dismantled. There’s no security,” said another Christian woman in Tanta in reference to an attack earlier this month near a police training center..
Wahby Lamie, who had one nephew killed and another injured in the Tanta blast, expressed exasperation.
“How much longer are we going to be this divided? Anyone who’s different from them now is an infidel, whether they’re Muslim or Christian. They see them as infidels,” he said.
“How much longer are these people going to exist? And how much longer will security be this incompetent?”
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, Mahmoud Mourad, Mohammed Abdellah, Amina Ismail, Ahmed Aboulenein, and Mostafa Hashem)


Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 13 July 2020

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

  • Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines
  • In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment

CAIRO: Their accounts are similar. The girls and women describe meeting the young man — a former student at Egypt’s most elite university — in person and online, followed by deceit, then escalating sexual harassment, assault, blackmail or rape.
Some were minors when the alleged crimes took place. In all, more than 100 accusers have emerged online in the past two weeks.
It’s resulted in a new #MeToo firestorm on social media, and the arrest of the suspect last week from his home in a gated community outside Cairo.
Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines; many in Egypt have previously portrayed harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Women’s rights champions hope the authorities’ swift response signals change in how Egyptian society handles accusations of sexual assault.
“What’s before this case is totally different from what’s after,” said Nihad Abuel-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victim of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor’s officer said the accused man acknowledged he blackmailed at least six girls, saying he would send sensitive photos of them to their families if they cut ties. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact him or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt’s most prominent TV host, said in a recent episode that he’d spoken with the young man’s father, who occupies a high-ranking position at a telecommunication company. He said his son dismissed the allegations.
At least 10 women have officially reported their claims, according to Abuel-Komsan, of the women’s rights center. Activists also set up the Instagram account @assaultpolice to collect allegations, said Sabah Khodir, a US-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 accounts.
“We are demanding to be listened to … We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change,” she said.
A court has ordered the accused to remain in custody pending an investigation into an array of accusations that include attempted rape, blackmail and indecent assault, according to a five-page statement by the public prosecutor. In the same statement, the prosecutor urged more alleged victims to come forward.
Last week, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi moved to amend the country’s criminal law to increase protections for the identities of sexual assault victims, which activists have welcomed. The amendment still needs parliamentary approval and El-Sisi’s signature to be made law.
The allegations against the student cover a period of at least three years.
Many of the anonymous accounts appear to be from fellow students at the American International School, one of the country’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo, which school officials said the accused left in 2018. It would appear that he then enrolled at the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program last year.
In February, he spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus, but the school expelled him after an accusation of online harassment that was subsequently proved false, said Claire Basterfield, a spokesperson for the EUBS. The school has filed a 54-page criminal complaint with the Spanish police, seeking further investigation into his actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said the university has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment, but that he would not comment on an ongoing case.
According to accusations posted on social media in the past two weeks, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs. He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them to have sex with him. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
In some cases, he “attracted their sympathy by claiming he was going through a crisis,” then lured them to his home in an upscale compound where he sexually assaulted them, the prosecutor’s statement alleged.
In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment. During and after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, women were frequently harassed, groped — and in some cases, beaten and sexually assaulted — during mass protests.
This time, there are signs of wider ripples throughout the society. The current series of complaints has prompted Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, to speak out on sexual harassment and assault, even challenging the widely held belief that a woman is at fault if her clothing is less than modest. It’s a departure from the norm for the conservative Muslim majority country where most women wear headscarves.
There are also other corners where accusations of sexual harassment are emerging, such as in civil society groups and businesses.
Two rights groups said they fired one employee and suspended another, and opened investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made public. Authorities also detained a prominent publisher over the weekend after a poet filed a complaint with the Cairo police, accusing him of sexually harassing her, the state-run Al-Ahram reported. The publisher denied the allegations in a Facebook posting. He was released late Sunday on 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($313) in bail, pending an investigation.
The recent cases — reaching into the Egyptian elite — have “refuted all previous arguments and justifications for harassment, from poverty to illiteracy and things like that,” Abuel-Komsan said.