ISIS Claims Responsibility for Egypt Cathedral Bombing

Cairo church bombing funeral
Egyptian clergymen stand next to the coffins of victims killed in the bomb explosion at a Coptic Orthodox Church the previous day in Cairo. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Coptic Christian cathedral in the Egyptian capital Cairo, which killed at least 25 people.

The attack took place in a side chapel that adjoins St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the main Coptic cathedral in Egypt and the seat of Coptic Pope Tawadros II. 49 people were wounded in the attack and at least six children were among the dead, as worshippers gathered for mass were caught up in the explosion.

In a statement circulated by the Amaq news agency on Tuesday, ISIS said that one of its fighters—whom it named as Abu Abdallah al-Masri—had carried out the attack. "Every infidel and apostate in Egypt and everywhere should know that our war...continues," said the statement, Reuters reported.

The militant group's claim contradicted the Egyptian authorities; President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi named the bomber as 22-year-old Mahmoud Shafik Mohamed Mostafa at a state funeral for the victims on Monday. Sisi said that four people had been arrested—three men and a woman—in connection with the attack, and that a further two fugitives were being sought.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry said that Mostafa was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political organization that Sisi has banned in Egypt. The ministry said that Mostafa had been arrested in March 2014 for carrying arms during a protest and was freed on bail after two months, and that he was wanted in connection with two other cases.

But Mostafa's mother, Umm Bilal, told Reuters that her son had fled to Sudan after his release in 2014. Bilal claimed to have spoken to her son in the past week and said he had not been radicalized, despite allegedly being beaten in custody.

An ISIS affiliate known as the Sinai Province has been fighting an insurgency against the Egyptian government in the Sinai Peninsula, a vast and sparsely populated region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The group has targeted security forces and civilians, while ISIS also claimed responsibility for shooting down a Russian jet over the Sinai Desert in October 2015, which resulted in the deaths of all 224 people on board.

Copts are the biggest group within Egypt's Christian minority, which makes up about five percent of the total population, according to the Pew Research Center. They have frequently been targeted by Islamist militants or hardline groups: in May, for example, a 70-year-old Christian woman was stripped naked and dragged through the streets of a village in the Minya province by a Muslim mob after it was alleged that her son had had an affair with a Muslim woman.

The Sinai Province also claimed responsibility for the killing of Rafael Moussa, a Coptic Orthodox priest in Arish, a town in the Sinai Peninsula.