Sunday Apr 09, 2017
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, while the cause of the blast, just one week before Coptic Easter and the same month that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt, was not known.
Terrorism hits Egypt again, this time on Palm Sunday. Another obnoxious but failed attempt against all Egyptians #united_on_PalmSunday— Egypt MFA Spokesman (@MfaEgypt) April 9, 2017
The bombing in Tanta, a Nile Delta city less than 100 kilometres outside Cairo, comes as Daesh's branch in Egypt appears to be stepping up attacks on Christians and threatening them in messages blasted out to followers.
In February, Christian families and students fled Egypt's North Sinai province in droves after Daesh began a spate of targeted killings there. Those attacks came after one the deadliest on Egypt's Christian minority in years, when a suicide bomber hit its largest Coptic cathedral, killing 25. Daesh later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Eyewitnesses to Sunday's blast described a scene of carnage.
"There was a huge explosion in the hall. Fire and smoke filled the room and the injuries were extremely severe. I saw the intestines of those injured and legs severed entirely from their bodies," Vivian Fareeg told Reuters by phone.
A shift in Daesh's tactics, which has waged a low-level conflict for years in the Sinai peninsula against soldiers and police, to targeting Christian civilians and broadening its reach into Egypt's mainland is a potential turning point in a country trying to prevent a provincial insurgency from spiralling into wider sectarian bloodshed.
Egypt's Christian community has felt increasingly insecure since Daesh spread through Iraq and Syria in 2014, ruthlessly targeting religious minorities. In 2015, 21 Egyptian Christians working in Libya were killed by Daesh.
Copts face regular attacks by Muslim neighbours, who burn their homes and churches in poor rural areas, usually in anger over an interfaith romance or the construction of a church.
Tanta was also the site of another attack earlier this month when a policeman was killed and 15 were injured after a bomb exploded near a police training centre.