Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency and created a powerful new anti-terrorism body after Palm Sunday church bombings claimed by Islamic State left at least 43 dead.
Sunday’s declarations suggested a tougher approach to come against militants whose simmering war with the government has strained efforts to stabilize the country and revive an economy battered by years of unrest. Even before the new measures, Egypt’s onslaught against Islamists and other dissidents has been criticized by Western governments and human rights groups.
The attacks earlier in the day were the deadliest strike on the country’s Christian minority since El-Sisi was elected in 2014. They also reflected the potential for a troubling expansion of the militants’ theater of operations, at a time when Egyptians’ patience with reforms is being tested by soaring prices linked to the November decision to float the currency.
“I ask Egyptians to bear the pain,” El-Sisi said in a televised speech after the attacks.
At least 27 people were killed and more than 70 wounded in the first blast in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. A second explosion in a Coptic cathedral in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria left at least 16 others dead, officials said.
Trump Offers Support
The bombings came less than a week after El-Sisi met President Donald Trump at the White House, where he was praised for his efforts to fight terrorism. Trump tweeted on Sunday that he’s “sad to hear about the terrorist attack in Egypt” and has “great confidence that President Al Sisi will handle the situation properly.” He later spoke with the Egyptian leader by phone to express his condolences and offer support, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.
By targeting two major cities outside its base in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State showed it’s “still able to operate — despite this growing pressure — and to embarrass the Egyptian government after Sisi’s visit to Washington” and before Pope Francis’ visit this month, said Michael Horowitz, director of intelligence at the political risk consultancy Prime Source.
In a televised address, the Egyptian leader said the state of emergency would go into effect after necessary constitutional measures were taken — largely a formality after he’d earlier ordered the military to deploy nationwide to help secure vital institutions and infrastructure.