Daish claimed responsibility for bombing two Egyptian churches as worshippers gathered to mark Palm Sunday, killing at least 38 people in the deadliest attacks on the Coptic Christian minority in recent memory.
The attacks followed a Cairo church bombing in December 2016 and came weeks ahead of a planned visit by Catholic Pope Francis intended to show support for the country’s Christian minority.
The first bombing struck the Mar Girgis church in the city of Tanta north of Cairo, killing 27 people, the health ministry said.
Emergency services had scrambled to the scene when another bombing rocked the Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria where Coptic Pope Tawadros II had been leading a Palm Sunday service.
Eleven people were killed in that attack, which the interior ministry said was caused by a suicide bomber who blew himself up when police prevented him from entering the church.
The ministry said Tawadros was unharmed, and a church official said he had left the church before the bombing.
At least 78 people were wounded in Tanta and another 40 wounded in Alexandria, the health ministry said.
Egyptian officials denounced the violence as an attempt to sow divisions in the country, while Francis sent his “deep condolences” to Tawadros.
Daish claimed that its “squads” carried out both attacks, in a statement by its self-styled Amaq news agency published on social media accounts.
Images broadcast by various private television stations showed bloodstains smearing the whitewashed walls of the church in Tanta next to shredded wooden benches.
“The explosion took place in the front rows, near the altar, during the mass,” General Tarek Atiya, the deputy to Egypt’s interior minister in charge of relations with the media, said.
“I heard the blast and came running. I found people torn up… some people, only half of their bodies remained,” said Nabil Nader, who lives in front of the Tanta church.
The worshippers had been celebrating Palm Sunday.
Francis, who is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29, offered prayers for the victims.
“Let us pray for the victims of the attack unfortunately carried out today,” he said in an Angelus prayer.