At least 37 people are killed and dozens more are injured in two separate blasts at churches packed with worshippers in northern Egypt, one week before Coptic Easter, officials say.
At least 26 people were killed and 70 injured in the first blast at a Coptic church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, north of Cairo.
The second blast in front of a Christian church in Alexandria on the country’s north coast killed 11 and wounded at least 35 others, Egypt’s health ministry said.
The attacks are the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up around 10 per cent of the population and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists.
They come just one week before Coptic Easter and the same month Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt.
CBC TV showed footage from inside the Tanta church, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.
People gathered by the Coptic church in Tanta after it was bombed. (Reuters: Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Eyewitness Vivian Fareeg described a scene of carnage.
“There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe,” she said.
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Pope Francis expressed his “deepest condolences” to all Egyptians and to the head of the Coptic Church during his Palm Sunday Mass before tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square.
“I pray for the dead and the victims. May the Lord convert the hearts of people who sow terror, violence and death and even the hearts of those who produce and traffic in weapons,” he said.
Egypt struggles to combat wave of Islamic militancy
A local Islamic State affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral in December that killed around 30 people — mostly women — making it one of the deadliest attacks carried out against the religious minority in recent memory.
Copts — who belong to an early Christian denomination in Egypt — face regular attacks by Muslim neighbours, who burn their homes and churches in poor rural areas, usually in anger over an inter-faith romance or the construction of a church.
In February, Christian families and students fled Egypt’s North Sinai province in droves after Islamic State began a spate of targeted killings there.
A militant group called Liwa al-Thawra claimed responsibility for an April 1 bomb attack targeting a police training centre in Tanta, which wounded 16 people.
The group, believed to be linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has mainly targeted security forces and distanced itself from attacks on Christians.
Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow of elected Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.