Egypt declared a state of emergency and Israel closed its shared border on Monday, citing security concerns, after two church bombings killed at least 44 people.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the three-month state of emergency – the first in the country since the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 – in response to the Palm Sunday attacks claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
In a defiant speech, he warned the war against jihadists “will be long and painful” after he had ordered the army to protect “vital infrastructure”.
Israel also took the rare step of closing a major border crossing into Egypt from the Sinai, from where militants have been firing rockets in recent days.
Isil has been waging a deadly insurgency against Egyptian security forces in the Sinai but it has rarely attempted attacks against Israel.
It was reported on Monday that the suspected suicide bombers in the Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta attacks, who were named only by the nom de guerres Abu Al-Baraa Al-Masri and Abu Ishaaq Al-Masri, had both travelled to Syria.
It is believed they received training from jihadist groups before returning to Egypt.
The attacks were the deadliest on the minority in recent memory and came after repeated threats by Isil to step up violence against Christians in Egypt.
The blasts also came weeks before an expected visit by Pope Francis intended to show support for the country’s Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population and have long complained of being vulnerable and marginalised.
Pope Francis, who is due in Cairo on April 28-29, offered prayers for the victims.
“Let us pray for the victims of the attack unfortunately carried out today,” he said. “May the Lord convert the heart of those who sow terror, violence and death and also the heart of those who make weapons and trade in them.”
Watch | Egypt church bombings: locator map
The Telegraph was given access to the St George’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta. Inside blood stains still covered the floor. Pieces of human flesh could be seen at the ceiling.
“It was horrible; I saw the intestines and stomach of some of the dead outside the bodies,” Abdel Masih Fawzy, a 48-year-old carpenter, said. “But we are not sad, we are happy because they are martyrs for Jesus.”
A funeral for the victims was held late on Sunday night and some of the victims were buried in a mass grave beside the church.
Those who attended expressed anger at the lapse in security. Witnesses said that guards outside did not inspect anybody entering the church despite security concerns. Last week an unexploded bomb was found beside the church wall.
Early in the day, an angry mob of mourners accosted the head of security at Gharbia governorate, where Tanta city is located. He was later sacked from his position for failing to prevent the attack.
“The police say that the metal detector was broken. If it’s broken, why they didn’t inspect people if there was no machine to alert?” said Mark Botrous, 28, a physician who was in the church to attend the funeral of some of his friends.
“It is a failure starting from Sisi because he hired those people,” he added.
“There is no security protection or anything. The people were entering without being inspected. Security guards were sitting doing nothing,” Awad Gergis, 60, said. “We have lived most our life in peace with Muslims, why would this happen to us now?”