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Egypt on Edge as Christians Bury Dead From Church Attacks

By Brian Rohan and Maggie Michael / Associated Press | 4/13/2017, midnight
Egyptian Christians were burying their dead Monday after Islamic State suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in attacks on ...
The aftermath of the bombing in Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt (AP) -- Egyptian Christians were burying their dead Monday after Islamic State suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in attacks on Palm Sunday services in two cities, as a state of emergency went into effect amid fears of further violence.

At least 17 people were killed at St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, the historic seat of Christendom in Egypt, where Pope Tawadros II was leading Palm Sunday prayers. Another 28 were killed inside St. George's Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta.

IS named the two attackers, whose noms de guerre suggests they were Egyptians. The extremist group had recently threatened to step up attacks against Egypt's Coptic minority, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

Mourners wailed and some collapsed as caskets marked with the word "martyr" were brought into the St. Mina monastery on the outskirts of the coastal city of Alexandria.

Rev. Danial Maher, of the Tanta church, lost his 23-year-old son, Beshoy, who was among six deacons killed in the attack. He recalled watching his son wearing white vestments and singing at the service. "He was like an angel," he said.

Pictures of the elder Maher, sitting helplessly in blood-stained vestments after the attack, were widely circulated online. He buried his son late Sunday.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared a state of emergency, amid fears that IS militants, who have been battling security forces in the Sinai Peninsula for years, are shifting their focus to Christians. In December, a massive church bombing killed 30 people in Cairo, and a series of killings in the Sinai have caused hundreds to flee to safer areas.

The escalating violence has undermined the Egyptian government's claim to being a bulwark against extremism in a chaotic region as it pursues closer ties with President Donald Trump, who hosted el-Sissi at the White House a week ago.

Parliament has seven days to approve or reject the state of emergency, but its approval is seen as a foregone conclusion since the legislature is packed with el-Sissi's supporters. The Cabinet declared that it had gone into effect at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT).

In theory, it would allow for arrests without warrants, swifter prosecution of suspects, and special courts. But authorities have already been waging a heavy crackdown on dissent for years, so it was unclear if anything would change.

A limited state of emergency and nightly curfew in the northern Sinai, which has been in place since 2014, has done little to stem the violence there.

"We won't see a change on the ground, as this decision wasn't taken to give more powers or tighten control," said political analyst Yasser Abdel-Aziz. "It's a purely political decision that is meant to have a psychological impact."

El-Sissi has clamped down on opponents since he led the military overthrow of an elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013. Security forces killed hundreds of protesters in the months after the overthrow as they violently dispersed demonstrations. Thousands have been jailed, mainly Morsi supporters but also secular and liberal activists.