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CAIRO (AFP) – A bomb blast tore through a church near Cairo’s Coptic cathedral during a service Sunday, killing 23 people in the deadliest attack in recent memory on Egypt’s Christian minority.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, but Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, have been previously targeted by jihadists.
At least 49 people were wounded in the explosion, the health ministry said, as the attack drew condemnation from political and religious leaders and led President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare three days of national mourning.
The bombing hit around 10:00 am at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, which is adjacent to Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope Tawadros II.
The blast shattered the church’s windows and scattered pews through the interior of the church, scorching its marble pillars.
Ball-bearing-sized shrapnel peppered the walls covered in icons of saints and destroyed a box that contained a saint’s relics. Pools of blood congealed on the floor.
Security officials said they believed a bomb containing 12 kilos of TNT appeared to have been the cause of the explosion.
‘‘I was leaving the church and then I heard a loud explosion and there was a lot of smoke and people started running and screaming,’’ Jackline Abdel Shahid, one of the survivors, told AFP at the scene.
‘‘The ambulances started coming, and they kept bringing out body parts,’’ she said.
‘‘Where were the security forces? They’re filling the streets now, but it’s too late,’’ said Gebrail Ebeid, who had been headed to services when the bomb went off.
Several dozen people gathered outside to protest after the attack, chanting for the resignation of Egypt’s interior minister. They scuffled briefly with police as they tried to push through the cordon.