Middle East

Cairo cathedral bombing: President Sisi names attacker, as funeral held

Pope Tawadros II praying over victims' coffins Image copyright EPA
Image caption Pope Tawadros II prayed over the victims' coffins and called them martyrs

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has attended a state funeral for victims of an attack at Cairo's Coptic Christian cathedral, naming the suicide bomber he said was responsible.

Mr Sisi, who has declared three days of national mourning, named Shafik Mahmoud Mohamed Mostafa, 22, as the attacker.

The bombing on Sunday killed 24 people, many of them women and children.

Mr Sisi said that three men and a woman had been arrested in connection with the attack.

Dozens more were injured in the blast in a chapel adjoining St Mark's cathedral during a Sunday service, which Mr Sisi said caused "pain to all Egyptians".

He used his address to urge the government to amend the country's terrorism laws, which he said were "restricting the judicial system" in its battle to prevent such attacks in Egypt.

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Image caption Mourners protest as police stand guard at the Virgin Mary and St Athanasius Church in Cairo

Mourners earlier packed the Virgin Mary and St Athanasius Church for a service led by the spiritual head of Egypt's Orthodox Christians, Pope Tawadros II.

However, hundreds of mourners were angry at being denied entry, the Reuters news agency reports, with a number of youths detained.

Inside the church, banners bearing the names of the dead were hung on the walls. Pope Tawadros II prayed over the victims' coffins and called them martyrs.

After the service, the victims' coffins were taken by ambulance to Nasr City for the state funeral.

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Image caption Coffins carrying the victims of Sunday's attack leave the Virgin Mary Church in Cairo

The Christian minority in Egypt has often been targeted by Islamist militants. There has so far not been any claim for responsibility for the attack.

Egypt has seen a wave of attacks by militants since 2013 when the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, an elected leader who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, and launched a crackdown against Islamists.

Some of Mr Morsi's supporters blamed Christians for supporting the overthrow.

'I found bodies'

Sunday's explosion happened at about 10:00 local time (08:00 GMT). Video footage carried by regional media showed the interior of a chapel adjoining St Mark's Cathedral littered with broken and scattered furniture, along with blood and clothing on the floor.

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Media captionSamia, eyewitness: "I left, and just two minutes later, the bomb went off"

"I found bodies, many of them women, lying on the pews. It was a horrible scene," said cathedral worker Attiya Mahrous.

"There were children. What have they done to deserve this? I wish I had died with them instead of seeing these scenes,'' another witness told the Associated Press news agency.

Coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt's population.

St Mark's Cathedral is the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox church, and the home of Pope Tawadros II.

What is the Coptic Christian faith?

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian Church in Egypt. While most Copts live in Egypt, the Church has about a million members outside the country.

Copts believe that their Church dates back to around 50 AD, when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria - the head of their Church.

This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land.

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Media captionCoptic Christians are a significant minority in Egypt

The Church separated from other Christian denominations at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in a dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ.

The early Church suffered persecution under the Roman Empire, and there were intermittent persecutions after Egypt became a Muslim country. Many believe that continues to this day.

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