Egypt security forces kill suspects planning attacks on Christians

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The attacks led President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to declare 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 Egypt's Coptic minority, one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.

Seventeen people including at least four police officers were killed in that attack, which the interior ministry said was caused by a suicide bomber who blew himself up when prevented from entering the church.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks via its Aamaq media agency, following the group's recent video vowing to step up attacks against Christians, who the group describes as "infidels" empowering the West against Muslims. Before the announcement, he had called a National Defence Council. The majority in parliament backs Mr Sisi. IS claimed both bombings.

He also ordered the immediate deployment of troops to assist police in protecting vital facilities across the country. More than 100 people remained injured, according to Egyptian authorities.

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The blasts came weeks before an expected visit by Pope Francis meant to show support for the country's Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's population and have long complained of being vulnerable and marginalised. The ministry did not say when the firefight took place.

Hours later, a suicide bomber struck the Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria's Manshyia district.

So-called Islamic State (IS) said it was behind the blasts in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday. "This terrorist attack is devoid of all the principles of humanity and civilisation", it said in a statement.

Steffen Seibert told reporters that it was important to preserve the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt.

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People gather outside the St. George's Church after a suicide bombing, in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017.

Jihadists and Islamists accuse Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

The attacks coincided with one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, marking the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

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