No fewer than 36 people has been reportedly killed in two separate bomb blasts that hit two Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday in Egypt.
Eleven people were killed when an explosion struck outside St Mark’s Coptic Church in Alexandria, state-owned Nile News TV reported.
Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Church, had been attending mass inside.
Twenty-five people had died in an earlier blast at St George’s Coptic church, in the city of Tanta, about 130km (80 miles) south-east.
According to state media, Pope Tawadros is unhurt. His secretary said the attack in Alexandria was carried out by a suicide bomber who struck outside the church.
After the first explosion in Tanta, provincial governor Ahmad Deif told the state-run Nile News channel: “Either a bomb was planted or someone blew himself up.”
General Tarek Atiya, a spokesperson at Egypt’s interior ministry, told AFP news agency that the blast in Tanta took place near the altar.
A search is under way for any more explosives which could be in the vicinity.
Media captionFootage shows the scene following an explosion at a church in Tanta in northern Egypt
The blasts appear to have been timed for maximum impact, as people gathered to mark Palm Sunday.
Egyptian security forces had been put on alert in anticipation of attacks.
Pope Francis, who is due to visit Egypt later this month, has condemned the attack.
Violence against Coptic Christians has risen in recent years, especially since 2013, when the military overthrew the elected president and launched a crackdown against Islamists.
Some supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, blamed Christians for supporting the overthrow.
In December last year, 25 people died when a bomb exploded at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo during a service.
And in February, militants from the Islamic State group warned of more attacks against Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population.
The explosion occurred as Coptic Christians were celebrating Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, marking the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.
On 1 April, an explosion outside a police training centre in Tanta injured 16 people.
What is the Coptic Christian faith?
The Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian Church in Egypt. While most Copts live in Egypt, the Church has about a million members outside the country.
Copts believe that their Church dates back to around 50 AD, when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria – the head of their church.
This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land.
The Church separated from other Christian denominations at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in a dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ.
The early Church suffered persecution under the Roman Empire, and there were intermittent persecutions after Egypt became a Muslim country. Many believe that continues to this day.