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Egypt attacks: Survivors detail harrowing accounts of twin bombings

David Lee Miller reports from Jerusalem

 

Survivors of the twin suicide bombings that targeted Coptic churches in Egypt Sunday, leaving 44 dead and more than 100 injured, described a scene panic and uncertainty immediately after the blasts.

The Palm Sunday bombings targeted worshippers celebrating the start of Holy Week. The first blast occurred at St. George Church in Tanta, which left 27 dead. The second was at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, which left 17 others dead, including three police officers.

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“I just felt fire grabbing my face,” one victim of the Tanta attack told state TV from a hospital. “I pushed my brother, who was sitting next to me, and then I heard people saying, ‘Explosion!’”

Another victim told Reuters she saw “body parts scatters” after the blast.

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Across the street from St. George, neighbor Susan Mikhail, whose apartment has a clear balcony view of the church and its front yard, said the explosion violently shook her building midmorning, at a time when the church was packed.

"Deacons were the first to run out of the church. Many of them had blood on their white robes," she told The Associated Press. Later, the more seriously wounded started to come out, carried in the arms of survivors and ferried to hospitals in private cars, she said.

The second attack came just after Pope Tawadros II -- leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria -- finished services, but aides told local media that he was unharmed.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks via its Aamaq media agency, following the group's recent video vowing to step up attacks against Christians, who the group describes as "infidels" empowering the West against Muslims.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi accused unnamed countries of fueling instability in the country, adding "Egyptians have foiled plots and efforts by countries and fascist, terrorist organizations that tried to control Egypt." El-Sisi ordered the immediate deployment of troops to assist police in protecting vital facilities across the country.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he is "so sad to hear of the terrorist attack" against the U.S. ally but added that he has "great confidence" that el-Sissi, "will handle the situation properly." The two leaders met at the White House on April 3.

Pope Francis decried the bombings, expressing "deep condolences to my brother, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic church and all of the dear Egyptian nation." Word of the attacks came as Francis was holding Palm Sunday services in St. Peter's Square.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.