The Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria has issued a statement explaining what happened on Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of St Mark’s cathedral in Alexandria claiming 10 lives and causing injuries to scores of individuals. The Church said it hoped the statement would put an end to rumours and inaccuracies circulated on social media concerning the painful incident.
The statement explained that the Holy Mass Pope Tawadros presided over on PalmSunday at St Mark’s was scheduled to start at 6am and expected to end around 1pm. Messages were sent to St Mark’s congregation as usual to notify them of this schedule. Prayers started on time with Pope Tawadros participating in the palm procession in the church nave. The ritual praises chanted by the deacons were not curtailed, as rumours said, once it was known that a suicide bombing at Mar-Girgis church in Tanta had claimed lives and injured innocent members of the congregation. Mass ended earlier than planned, little before 12, at 11.50am. According to the statement, the Pope learned about the Tanta church blast near the end of Mass, and was visibly distressed but proceeded with Mass and the subsequent Palm Sunday rituals till the end. He performed the ritual of sprinkling water on the congregation, explaining meanwhile the meaning of that rite. He asked the congregation to pray “Lord, give us a good ending,” which they said out loud.
The Pope then headed to the papal headquarters located behind the cathedral–Alexandria is the original See of St Mark even though the papal seat moved to Cairo during medieval centuries. At 12.40pm a deafening blast was heard. The CCTV cameras showed a man who had come from outside the church and headed to the church gate. He attempted to evade the electronic metal detector gate but the church guard Nessim Bakheet insisted he pass through the electronic gate. The stranger blew himself up; Fahim directly died, as did two police persons who were at the gate.
The statement described the consequent scene: blood spattered on the floor and mixed with palm fronds, roses, and body parts inside and outside the church in a terrible sight.
Ambulances started arriving in a few minutes to move the bodies and the injured to a number of hospitals.
The Pope remained at the cathedral and refused to leave as was claimed by some on social media. He only left when all the rescue operations came to an end.
It was God’s will, the statement declared, that Holy Mass should end earlier than predicted, and that the faithful guard, Nessim Bakheet, should insist that the terrorist passes through the electronic gate. Had Mass ended later, the congregation would have been in the process of leaving the church at the time of the blast; had Nessim failed to do his job the terrorist would have blown himself in the most crowded area or in the papal headquarters. In both cases the outcome would have been even more dramatic than the actual one.
The terrorist accident claimed the lives of police officer Lieutenant Colonel Emad al-Rakaibi, as well as the female police persons Brigadier General Nagwa Abdel-Alim and Corporal Amina Rushdy.
A number of Christians were martyred.Until this statement was issued on 12 April these were:
1. Girgis Ghattas Attallah
2. Hanan Lamei Derias
3. Milad Nazim Girgis
4. Lucinda Christian Kamal (child)
5. Bishoy Abdel Malak Eissa
6. Nessim Fahim Bakheet
7. Ibrahim Girgis Bakhoum
Scores of Muslim and Christian innocent people were injured for no reason other than that they happened to be around the church at the time of the blast. Some of them have left hospital, others are still being treated, and some are in critical condition. Until 12 April there were 12 Christians and nine Muslim still being treated from their injuries in hospitals.
On 12 April Pope Tawadros delegated a number of bishops and priests to visit the injured, Christians and Muslim, in hospital and to convey to them the Pope’s prayers and good wishes. The delegation included Anba Yulius, Bishop-General of Old Cairo churches; Anba Pavlov, Bishop-General of the Montazah churches; Fr Ruweis Morqos, Deputy General of the Alexandria Patriarchate; Fr Ammonius Adel, Papal Secretary; and Fr Abra’am Emile, Secretary-General of the Priests Council. The delegation also included the priests of St Mark’s and a large number of Alexandria priests.
13 April 2017