An explosion near a key Coptic cathedral in the Egyptian capital has left at least 25 people dead and 31 others injured, local media reported.
The blast occurred in Cairo’s Abbassyia district early Sunday morning, according to the government-sponsored Al-Ahram news outlet, citing the health ministry.
“Security forces are searching and screening the area,” Al-Ahram’s website reported.
The explosion took place in the small church of St. Peter and St. Paul attached to the St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, said the Coptic Church’s official spokesperson, Rev. Paul Halim, according to Al-Ahram.
The attack targeted one of the most symbolic religious sites for Copts, an ethno-religious group centered in Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement on its Facebook page, saying in part:
“As we are bereaved by this violence and terrorism that attacks worshipers, we pray for these martyrs and for the wounded. The Egyptian church stresses on persevering national unity that keeps all Egyptians on Egypt’s blessed land.”
President Abdel Fattah El Sisi condemned the attack and declared a three-day period of national mourning.
The Grand Mufti, the highest official of religious law in Egypt, condemned the “deplorable terrorist attack” on the cathedral.
“Attacking churches whether by demolition, bombing, killing those inside, or terrifying … secure people are prohibited in Islamic Sharia,” Sheikh Shawky Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam said.
He called for unity against “black terrorism that tries to instigate sectarianism and sedition among the two wings of Egypt — Muslims and Christians — in a bid to weaken the nation.”
The Grand Mufti also extended his condolences to Pope Tawadros ll of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
Sunday’s explosion came just two days after two bombs killed six police officers and a civilian in Giza’s Haram district, on the street leading to the city’s famed pyramids.
Copts face persecution in Egypt
Copts face persecution and discrimination that has spiked since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. Dozens have been killed in sectarian clashes. There is also little Christian representation in Egypt’s government.
Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million residents, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. They base their theology on the teachings of the Apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt, according to St. Takla Church in Alexandria, the capital of Coptic Christianity.