Egypt Steps Up Security As Pope Heads To Cairo Following ISIS Church Attacks

A man looks on near a billboard ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Cairo, Egypt on April 26, 2017. The country has stepped up security in preparation for the visit. Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Authorities in Cairo are tightening security ahead of the arrival of Pope Francis, who will travel to Egypt to comfort the country's Christians in the wake of a series of attacks on Coptic churches by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

In the upmarket, diplomatic district of Zamalek—where the pope will stay when he arrives Friday night—shops have been ordered closed and and police have been going door to door in security sweeps, the Associated Press reported.

The Vatican has looked to play down security fears following twin ISIS bombings targeting Christians as they worshipped on Palm Sunday earlier this month.

At least 45 died in the two separate April 9 attacks, the worst on Egypt's Coptic Christians in decades. In the aftermath, ISIS' Egyptian affiliate—known as Sinai Province—claimed responsibility for the twin blasts, naming the bombers via its Amaq news agency.

Read More: Pope Francis will go ahead with Egypt visit despite deadly ISIS bombings

On April 18, ISIS gunmen killed one policeman and injured four others at a checkpoint near St. Catherine's monastery in the southern part of Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

But the Vatican said that despite the threats, the Pontiff will not use an armored car as his predecessors did on previous foreign trips. "We're in the world of 'new normal,'" Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said, according to AP. "But we go forward with serenity," he added.

The only public mass being held by the pope over the course of his two-day trip will take place in a stadium heavily guarded by the Egyptian military, as he hopes to reach across Egypt's religious divide.

Italy has prevented at least one ISIS-directed plot targeting the Vatican, which along with the pope himself, the militant group has regularly called a primary target in propaganda messages.

Pope Francis' agenda will include a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egypt Independent reported. He is also due to hold talks with the leader of the Coptic faith Pope Tawadros II and the head of al-Azhar university, one of the principal seats of Sunni Islamic learning, Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb.