AP - AlexChurch
CAIRO – 10 May 2017: My father was eager to leave for church early for the prayers, he wanted to reserve his usual place and this is where his soul rose to heaven from,” says Emad Medhat Mousa Tadros, 26, who lost his father in the brutal attack on Tanta’s Mar Girgis Church last month.
“He urged mom to hurry for the prayers, since he wanted to sit in the first pew as usual. My mom heard a very loud explosion and saw a lot of smoke and that’s when she saw her husband being thrown from his place, flying in the air from the impact of the explosion. He was just a few meters away from the suicide bomber,” Tadros tells Egypt Today.
On April 9 worshipers and families gathered at Mar Girgis Church to attend to celebrate Palm Sunday. An explosion ripped through the church at 9 in the morning, taking the lives of 28 people and leaving over 70 others injured, turning the festive celebration into a blur of screams and bloodshed. The footage of the blast at Mar Girgis shows a choir practicing some hymns before the start of the celebration, seconds later turning into sounds of horror and panic.
Tadros received the news in Alexandria, where he was at his sister’s house. He had been with his father just one night earlier, running errands together and making sure everything was set before the festive Week of Pain.
“My only consolation is that my dad joined heaven on such a day. At first I was shocked when I received the news, yet I felt relieved by a strong faith, my dad is a martyr,” Tadros says. “I suddenly feel 40 instead of 26, my dad has left me with the huge responsibility of a younger brother of 13, and a mother in shock. . . . He didn’t even didn’t get the chance to see me happily married. I need his support.”
Tadros was forced to put his grief and shock aside and attend to proceedings. It fell on him to identify the body of his dad, get the license to bury him and follow up DNA tests as the explosion had ripped his father’s body in two—police only found the lower half of his body. His mother was able to identify her husband by the belt he wore that morning and their pain was only prolonged when the DNA samples were mixed up with others and the tests had to be redone.
“My dad was an army officer in the Egyptian Armed Forces, he has always lived his life to serve,” Tadros remembers, expressing anger about watching the terrorists’ families being interviewed on TV.
Tadros recounts that after the funeral, the imam of the mosque in front of the church pointed to the picture of his father and told of how courageous he used to be, how good a friend he was and prayed for him during the prayers at the mosque.
“We won’t be scared and we will continue to pray in church, and I will pray where my dad had prayed, at the same church.”
Living with Fear
The tragic attacks are not the first of their kind, Egypt’s churches have seen a series of bombings in the past decade, leaving many more families as angry and grief-stricken as Tadros. The past year had a tragic ending after an attack targeted St. Peter’s church near Cairo’s Cathedral in Abbasiya in December. Considered one of Egypt’s deadliest terrorist attacks on churches and taking place during Sunday morning prayers and less than a month before Copts celebrated Christmas, the bombing, targeting the women’s section of the church, left 29 dead and 49 wounded, most of whom were women and children. Video footage of the incident showed a broken roof, shattered windows and walls collapsing into ruins. ISIS claimed responsibility, issuing a statement saying it was a suicide operation.
“It does not really matter who claimed responsibility, it will not bring back those who are gone,” says Mariam Shohdy, a close friend to one of the victims, recalling the events of the tragic day. “I had spoken with Mary* the day before and we had not spoken this long since I do not know when, we talked for more than two hours nonstop, mostly about our childhood memories and how the times have changed. She told me that she wished her daughters felt safer. For some reason I felt worried about her. I did not know what was going to happen.”
Mary, 34, was badly injured and passed away minutes after being rushed to hospital, leaving a mourning husband and four-year-old twin daughters. Shohdy happened to be late for Sunday prayers and was on her way to the church, which is only a 10-minute walk from her home, when she heard the sound of an explosion. “It was sudden and lasted a couple of minutes, my gut feeling told me the sound was coming from the church. I kept running and praying I was wrong but unfortunately I was not.”
Mina Victor’s relative Emad I., 37, made it out of the explosion at St. Mark’s church alive but his arm had to be amputated. Emad is still being treated at Al Amiri hospital in Alexandria, and Victor is just as anguished as Shohdy. “[Emad] was not able to talk for days but when he finally started to talk it was like it all came to him like a flood, he kept describing the horrific scene of people falling to the ground, a lady without her head, hand and body pieces on the floor. He said that those who passed away are in a much better place [than] those who are left badly injured for life both physically and mentally,” Victor says. Emad will probably not be able to get his job back as an accountant who spent most of his working hours on a computer.
Both Victor and Shohdy express anger at being targeted as members of Egypt’s largest religious minority. “Why do Christians have to pay the price of terrorism? And after all the big words and statements we are left with only one ugly truth: our children and friends are not coming back, we will not see them again. Me and my family and friends are torn with anguish,” she says.
Victor agrees. “We need a completely different strategy to fight terrorism. Christians deserve to be protected by the government. It is their responsibility in the first place,” says Victor.
Three hours after the first Palm Sunday attack last month, another blast hit Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria where Pope Tawadros II was leading the holy day prayers. The death toll from both explosions rose to 47, with more than 100 injured. Video footage showed bloodstains on the floor and seats and on woven palm branches carried by churchgoers to celebrate.
Later that day and after meeting with security officials, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced a three-month state of emergency. “Terrorist attacks will not undermine the resolve and true will of the Egyptian people to counter the forces of evil, but will only harden their determination to move forward on their trajectory to realize security, stability and comprehensive development,” Sisi told the press.
Mervat Adly, an Alexandrian shop owner living near the area of St. Mark’s Cathedral says the tragic events have not stopped Christians from going to churches and giving thanks to God at this holy time. “Pope Tawadros told the woman who lost her baby girl that we raise our children in good manners, to serve God and go to heaven and your daughter cut a long way short and is in heaven now,” Adly says.
*Mary’s name was changed based on the source’s request