Persecution of Christians in Syria

Persecuted Church (1)

  • Leader:President Bashar al-Assad
  • Government:Republic
  • Population:18,907,000 (794,000 Christians)
  • Main Religion:Islam
  • Persecution Level:Extreme
  • Source of Persecution:Islamic Oppression, Ethnic Antagonism
Syria Map

The overall situation in Syria is characterized by heavy persecution of all types of Christians in areas held by IS and other Islamic militants. Many Christians have already fled areas that are held by Islamic militants (including IS) or that were destroyed during the conflict. The Syrian opposition is becoming increasingly “Islamized” and the civil war is morphing into a form of jihad against the Syrian government. The geographical concentration of remaining Christians in strategic areas is an important factor in their vulnerability to attack, as is their alleged support for the government. Most churches are in ruins, yet some Christians make a deliberate choice to stay and reach out to their fellow countrymen with the gospel.

Through the support of local partners of Open Doors, Syrian Christians are receiving relief aid, Bibles, discipleship materials, church leadership training, trauma counseling and more.




  • Pray for believers in Syria who haven’t fled the country.
  • Pray that they would be used as strong witnesses of Christ’s love to fellow Syrians.
  • Pray for the justice of Christ to draw the oppressed people of Syria to Him.


Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world. Learn More >

Advocate for persecuted Christians by sending the 2016 World Watch List to the President. Learn More >

Consider donating your resources to Open Doors. Learn More >

Christians under ISIS Siege in Egypt

by Katie Pavlich Article

In 2016, Christians were the most persecuted religious group on the planet and the trend is continuing. 

Over the past three weeks in Egypt, a number of Christians have been hunted down and killed. Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes in recent months due to regular assassination of church members practicing their faith. 

Suspected Islamic militants gunned down a Christian man inside his home in northern Sinai, officials and a priest said Friday, the latest in a string of sectarian killings there that has sent hundreds of Christians fleeing and raised accusations the government is failing to protect the community.

The militants stormed the home of Kamel Youssef, a plumber, on Thursday and shot him to death in front of his wife and children in the town of el-Arish, said two security officials and the priest.

According to Lisa Daftari at The Foreign Desk, militant groups sympathetic to ISIS have developed a kill list for Christians in the Sinai region. 

In the past few days, several ‘kill lists’ have been posted anonymously by jihadists online, highlighting churches across Egypt, and in some cases, listing names of prominent Christians to target.

The lists were posted to various private Telegram channels including one seen by The Foreign Desk entitled “Egypt’s murtad (apostate) watch”

“Praise be to Allah.. we will post some of the churches and congregation sizes across Egypt,” the post begins, rallying pro-ISIS jihadis to target the larger churches for maximum impact.

The post instructs Muslims to “target the infidel Christians attacking their churches and those who protect them using weapons, improvised weapons, daggers and even stones.”

According to Open Doors USA, 215 million Christians around the world were persecuted in some way last week for simply practicing their faith. Last summer, the Obama administration officially declared ISIS is carrying out a genocide against Christians in the Middle East and North Africa

Persecution of Christians in Sudan

Persecuted Church (1)
  • Leader:President Omar al-Bashir
  • Government:Republic
  • Population:42,166,000 (1,996,000 Christians)
  • Main Religion:Islam
  • Persecution Level:Extreme
  • Source of Persecution:Islamic Oppression, Dictatorial paranoia
Sudan Map

Sudan has been on the World Watch List since 1993 and has almost always been ranked in the top 20 over the years. Persecution in the country is systematic and reminiscent of ethnic cleansing. Under the authoritarian rule of al-Bashir and his party, there is no true rule of law in Sudan; freedom of expression has been almost entirely curtailed. The ethnic-cultural landscape is complicated and divisive: Arab versus Ethnic Africans, Muslims versus Christians. Historically, Islam is deeply embedded in Sudan’s society and the government is strictly implementing a one-religion, one culture and one language policy, which results in the persecution of Christians. Arrests, attacks and murders plague all Christian communities in the country, particularly those living in the Nuba mountain region.

To aid persecuted believers in Sudan, Open Doors works through local partners to provide discipleship training, persecution-preparedness and theological training, trauma care and more.



Found in Prayer Alerts: Lawyers for Hassan, Abdulmonem and Petr, Christians convicted on false charged in Sudan, submitted their appeal letter and the required documents to the Supreme Court in Khartoum on Feb. 8. + READ MORE


Found in Prayer Alerts: In Sudan, the trial of three Sudanese men and a Czech missionary resumed on Nov. 28. The pastors are accused of falsely documenting Christian persecution in Sudan and inciting war against the state. + READ MORE


Found in Prayer Alerts: The trial of two Sudanese pastors and their two friends has reconvened after the translation of relevant documents to consider the charges against them, two of which carry a maximum sentence of death. + READ MORE


Found in Prayer Alerts: In light of South Sudan’s current crisis, the World Council of Churches organized a discussion in Geneva that considered, among other things, the role of the church and women in the peace process. + READ MORE


Found in Prayer Alerts: Attacks continue from Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria, and the civil war in South Sudan is rapidly escalating. Join us in praying for peace. + READ MORE


  • Pray for Sudanese Christians who risk all for the sake of the gospel, evangelizing and preaching to those around them in spite of the risks.
  • Pray for Sudan’s leaders, that their hearts would be radically changed by the gospel.
  • Pray for Christians who could face the death penalty if their conversion from Islam is discovered.


Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world. Learn More >

Advocate for persecuted Christians by sending the 2016 World Watch List to President Obama. Learn More >

Consider donating your resources to Open Doors. Learn More >

Persecution of Christians in Pakistan

Persecuted Church (1)


  • Leader:Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
  • Government:Republic
  • Population:196,744,000 (3,938,000 Christians)
  • Main Religion:Islam
  • Persecution Level:Extreme
  • Source of Persecution:Islamic Oppression, Organized Corruption and Crime
Pakistan Map

There are multiple groups of Christians experiencing persecution in Pakistan. Historical Christian communities exist openly, but have to put up with stringent rules and constant monitoring, while Christian converts from Islam suffer the brunt of persecution from both radical Islamic groups and families and neighbors. Protestant Christian communities are under close scrutiny and suffer frequent attacks, especially when they are active in outreach amongst Muslims. Violent persecution is common. Christians are targets for murder, bombings, abduction of women, rape, forced marriages and eviction from home and country. Unjust and arbitrary blasphemy laws are used to punish Christians and prevent evangelism.

Through local partners in Pakistan, Open Doors is engaged in women’s ministry, emergency aid to victims of violent persecution, biblical and pastoral training, vocational learning projects, trauma counseling and more.


JAN 302017


Found in Stories

Pakistan is in urgent need of your prayers.  A Senate committee in Pakistan has decided to continue the debate over how to prevent the misuse of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law. There has been severe opposition to this debate from religious extremists who support legislation that carries a mandatory death penalty for insulting anything related to […] + READ MORE

OCT 112016


Found in Stories

Pakistan’s Supreme Court will finally examine Asia Bibi’s blasphemy case this Thursday. Pakistani Christians ask their brothers and sisters worldwide to pray for Asia, her lawyer and family. + READ MORE

SEP 92016


Found in Stories

Through your gifts, literacy training is equipping Christians to thrive and evangelize—even under persecution. Rhea and Mehak’s joy was contagious — their laughter and tears affected everyone in the room. Those who were watching knew they were witnessing something monumental. The reason? The sisters had learned to use pencils, a seemingly small feat for teenagers, but one that marked a major milestone in their pursuit of literacy. And literacy opens doors… + READ MORE

SEP 82016


Found in Prayer Alerts

Samuel Masih, 55, was killed in an early morning attack by a Pakistani Taliban group as he arrived for work. His courage saved the lives of many others, even as he lost his own and passed into glory. + READ MORE

AUG 272016


Found in Stories

Asia Bibi, probably the most well-known Christian in Pakistan, has been in prison for almost seven years. Bibi will have her appeal heard by Pakistan’s high court in October. This will be her last chance to avoid execution. It seems unthinkable that such a simple act can place this sister in Christ on death row. She needs our prayers… + READ MORE


  • Pray for both military and terrorist leaders, that they would encounter and heed conviction.
  • Pray that Christians being persecuted by their families will be faithful witnesses.
  • Pray for Christians in Pakistan, especially those who are evangelizing and risk being charged with blasphemy by friends, family and neighbors. 


Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world. Learn More >

Advocate for persecuted Christians by sending the 2016 World Watch List to President Obama. Learn More >

Consider donating your resources to Open Doors. Learn More >

Persecution of Christians in Afghanistan

Persecuted Church (1)

  • Leader:President Ashraf Ghani
  • Government:Republic
  • Population:34,169,000 (thousands of Christians)
  • Main Religion:Islam
  • Persecution Level:Extreme
  • Source of Persecution:Islamic Oppression, Organized Corruption and Crime
Afghanistan Map

Christians in Afghanistan experience extreme persecution. Severe pressure on believers, resulting from Islamic oppression, is exerted mostly by families, friends and community, but also by local religious leaders. The state authorities are weak, and Islam is viewed as a welcome unifying factor, especially as society agrees that conversion away from Islam cannot be tolerated. Many who convert from Islam to Christianity are murdered once their extended families learn of their new faith. In other families, Christian converts are delivered to mental hospitals under the premise that no one in their right mind would ever choose to leave Islam. In any case, converts usually lose their rights to personal property and possessions, effectively leaving them destitute. This can occur even upon the mere suspicion of conversion — a fear tactic that leads family members to react all the more harshly in curbing even the slightest hints of interest in Christianity.

To help persecuted Christians in Afghanistan, Open Doors provides emergency aid, counseling, literacy training, radio programs, vocational projects, biblical and pastoral training courses and more.


  • Pray for believers in Afghanistan who lack fellowship, especially new converts who fear telling anyone about their faith in Christ.
  • Pray for those who lose worldly possessions to persecution when they gain eternal life.
  • Pray that they would be able to forgive their persecutors to the glory of God.


Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world. Learn More >

Advocate for persecuted Christians by sending the 2016 World Watch List to President ObamaLearn More >

Consider donating your resources to Open Doors. Learn More >

Christians Were Persecuted in Every Corner of Globe in 2016

by Leah Barkoukis Article

Not only did the persecution of Christians increase in 2016, it also spread to every corner of the globe, according to Open Doors USA’s latest World Watch List.

The annual report ranks the worst 50 countries for Christians trying to live out their faith, and while some findings are not surprising (like North Korea topping the list for the 16thconsecutive year), the group is troubled by the overall rise in the number of incidents considered persecution.

"It is appalling that Open Doors has to report that persecution has increased again in 2016 and we are still at the worst levels of persecution in modern times," David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, told Fox News. "The spread of persecution has gotten worse, now hitting nearly every continent in the world. There were 23 Christians killed in Mexico specifically because of their faith.”

Open Doors estimates that at least 215 million Christians around the world face some level of persecution.

“Our report is conservative because it only calculates incidents that are reported and can be validated,” Curry told Fox News. “It is likely that there are thousands of incidents that are never reported and nobody knows because Christians are often fearful to tell anyone – even their own family members."

Persecution in Asian countries rose, as Christians were increasingly targeted by nationalist religious movements in places like India, Myanmar, and Pakistan. And, surprisingly, North, Central and South America also saw an uptick in persecution of Christ-followers.

As Curry noted, 23 Christian leaders were killed in Mexico, while four others were killed because of their faith in Colombia.

And while it’s important to understand the list and its implications, Curry hopes people will look beyond the stats.  

"It is vital to remember that the Open Doors World Watch List is not just about numbers. Rather, this represents a real life that was either taken or harmed. It is someone's mother, father, brother, sister, friend, etc.,” he said. “This is one of those issues that really are about life and death. It matters what we do as Americans and it is time that we took a stand and said that we will not allow this to happen anymore."

Persecution of Christians in Somalia

  • Leader:President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud
  • Government:Federal republic
  • Population:11,392,000 (a few hundred Christians)
  • Main Religion:Islam
  • Persecution Level:Extreme
  • Source of Persecution:Islamic Extremism, Ethical Antagonism
Somalia Map

Somalia has been on the World Watch List since 1993. Islam was already firmly established in Somalia before the arrival of Christianity, and as a result, life for believers is defined by hostility. Somalia’s tribal system — as an informal way of governing Somalia — is very resistant to modern government models, including democracy, which means that Christians have absolutely no voice in society. Since the downfall of Ziad Barre in 1991, Somalia has become a safe haven for Islamic militants. Christian converts from Islam in the country have been facing a great deal of persecution, and martyrdom is very common. The mere suspicion of one’s having renounced Islam leads to a rushed public execution.

To aid believers in Somalia, Open Doors works through local partners, providing underground Christians with discipleship training, Bibles and Christian books, along with community development programs and more, helping these believers to survive on the outskirts of society.


  • Pray for Christians in Somalia who risk martyrdom if their faith is discovered and struggle with keeping it to themselves.
  • Pray that they would have wisdom and discernment in sharing the gospel with others, along with a quiet boldness and sense of God’s presence with them.
  • Pray for Christians in Somalia who are isolated from the larger Body of Christ.


Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world. Learn More >

Advocate for persecuted Christians by sending the 2016 World Watch List to President Obama. Learn More >

Consider donating your resources to Open Doors. Learn More >

Persecution of Christians in North Korea

  • Leader:Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un
  • Government:Communist Dictatorship
  • Population:25,405,000 (300,000 Christians)
  • Main Religion:Atheism, Traditional Beliefs
  • Persecution Level:Extreme
  • Source of Persecution:Communist Oppression, Dictatorial Paranoia
North Korea Map

Once again, North Korea is ranked as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians, #1 on the World Watch List. In this totalitarian communist state, Christians are forced to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors and often, even their own spouses and children. Due to ever-present surveillance, many pray with eyes open, and gathering for praise or fellowship is practically impossible. Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation. Those who attempt to flee to South Korea through China risk execution or life imprisonment, and those who stay behind often fare no better.

Through local partners, Open Doors is serving Christians in North Korea by providing them with emergency relief aid, including food, medicine and clothes, as well as Bibles, books and other discipleship materials. Open Doors partners in China also provide shelter and aid for Christians who have fled the country, as well as training for those who wish to return to North Korea for ministry.


JAN 42017


Hwa-Young talks about her ministry among North Korean, trafficked women who hide in China.


NOV 222016


New buildings have recently been added to a North Korean camp for political prisoners about 45 miles northeast of the capital that has continued to steadily grow. Pray for North Korean believers who may be imprisoned there.


OCT 122016


North Korea is the worst place to be a Christian, but you are providing hope! For 15 years, North Korea has ranked #1 on the Open Doors World Watch List as the worst place to be a Christian. In this country, the very act of owning a Bible is punishable by death. An estimated 25% […]


AUG 252016


North Korea just released its own video-on-demand services, similar to Netflix. The service is call Manbang, and it allows viewers to watch documentaries and five TV channels. North Korea has ranked #1 on the World Watch List for 14 consecutive years. While the entire nation is under the harsh rule of Kim Jong-Un, secret Christian believers face extreme persecution…


JUL 282016


While North Korea ramps up their missile testing cycle and also cuts off communication with the U.S., pressure within North Korea is rising. We know what this means: increased danger for Christians.



  • Pray for North Korean believers who are languishing in prison camps, and for the proclamation of the gospel both in and outside the prison walls.
  • Also, pray that Christians in the country would have access to Bibles and fellowship
  • Pray that God would open Kim Jong-Un’s eyes to the surpassing glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world.

Learn More >

Advocate for persecuted Christians by sending the 2016 World Watch List to President Obama.

Learn More >

Consider donating your resources to Open Doors.

Learn More >

Persecution of Christians: The World Watch List from Open Doors

Persecuted Church (1)

One of the main tools of Open Doors to track and measure the extent of persecution in the world is the World Watch List (WWL). Open Doors has been monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide since the 1970s. Below follows a short overview of the main elements of the methodology.

1. Independently audited World Watch List methodology

The World Watch List 2015 will be the independently audited World Watch List. This auditing body is the only institution with academics dedicated to studying the religious liberty of Christians – the International Institute of Religious Freedom (IIRF). It is also the first time the full methodology will be available for scrutiny. This puts our research in a far more defensible position, and we hope, will make its impact greater. 2015 will also see the production of "mini-WWL's" that will focus on the top 10 places where violence is highest against Christians, or the role of the persecution engines. With our larger questionnaires, the dataset gathered is much larger, and we can continue to share this data throughout the year, and not merely at the beginning of it.

2. The pattern of persecution

The pattern of persecution

A persecution situation presents a complex reality. It is not always clear if and to which extent pressure felt by Christians or even violence against them is directly related to them being Christian. Sometimes, just living in a chaotic world creates substantial amounts of suffering for Christians and others alike. Other times, suffering results from antipathy, hatred or it could simply be 'double vulnerability' of Christians in a problematic context, and will be called persecution. The latter is what the WWL methodology tries to monitor and capture.

Persecution is when Christians and their communities experience specific pressure and/or violence in a situation of 'brokenness' that are related to persecution dynamics prevalent in their environments and are forcing them to comply with the drivers of these dynamics. The WWL methodology regroups these dynamics in three different impulses, fueling eight different persecution engines and being driven by specific actors or drivers of persecution. The diagram shows the relation between 'brokenness', impulses, persecution engines and the related drive for exclusive power.

The table below presents the different impulses with the persecution engines emanating from them:

Underlying impulses Persecution engine
Tribal impulse Islamic extremism
Other religious militancy
Tribal antagonism
Ecclesiastical arrogance
Secular impulse Communist oppression
Aggressive secularism
Exploitative impulse Totalitarian paranoia
Organized corruption

The drivers of persecution engines are people and/or groups embodying the three main impulses. The WWL methodology studies who they are, and which are involved in hostilities against Christians in a particular country.

The WWL methodology distinguishes the following drivers of persecution:

Drivers of persecution
Government Government officials at any level from local to national
Society Ethnic group leaders
Non-Christian religious leaders at any level from local to national
Religious leaders of other churches at any level from local to national
Fanatical movements
Normal citizens (people from the broader society), including mobs
Extended family
Political parties at any level from local to national
Revolutionaries or paramilitary groups
Organized crime cartels or networks
Multilateral organizations

Often more than one driver is active in and around one or more persecution engines.

3. Pressure (squeeze) and violence (smash)

Pressure of persecution

World Watch Research distinguishes two main expressions of persecution: squeeze (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and smash (plain violence). Nevertheless, while it would seem that smash is the most prevalent and invasive expression of persecution, it is often the squeeze that is most prevalent and invasive. The WWL methodology, therefore, negates the idea that the more violence there is against Christians, the more persecution there must be. The WWL methodology also seeks to negate another assumption, which is that the most violent persecutors of the church are its main persecutors.

While smash can be measured and tracked through incidents of violence, squeeze needs to be tracked otherwise. It needs to be tracked by discerning how the act of Christian life and witness itself is being squeezed in all the different areas of life.

The WWL methodology has defined the 'five spheres concept' to track the expressions of persecution in different areas of life. These five spheres express the squeeze (pressure) in each sphere of life. A sixth building block expresses the smash (plain violence). The sixth block potentially cuts across all five spheres of life.

4. Tools for monitoring hostilities against Christians

The team of World Watch Research has designed a system for integral monitoring of hostilities against Christians worldwide. The different components of the system are specified as follows: the Rapid Appraisal Tool (RAPT), combining information from other sources and internet search. High scores on RAPT necessitate further research through the World Watch Survey. The Vulnerability Assessment Tool (VAT) is an alternative to the World Watch Survey. In-depth research is done through the World Watch List (WWL) questionnaire.

The diagram shows steps for monitoring hostilities against Christians:Diagram of Steps

Developed by World Watch Research

When RAPT surpasses a specified threshold, it is followed by the World Watch Survey or by VAT. If the results from the World Watch Survey or VAT confirm the need for in-depth investigation, the WWL questionnaire will be used for that country.

5. Scoring countries and the World Watch List ranking

In order to be able to score countries for the World Watch List, a scoring system has been developed. The scoring grid consists of four categories of 'Yes' and 'No'

  No Yes, somewhat or rarely Yes, significantly Yes, very significantly Yes, absolutely
  0 points 1 point 2 points 3 points 4 points
(1) Proportion of types of Christianity None up to 1/4 >1/4 - 2/4 >2/4 – 3/4 >3/4 – 1
(2) Proportion of inhabited territory None up to 1/4 >1/4 - 2/4 >2/4 – 3/4 >3/4 – 1
(3) Intensity None Low Medium High Very high
(4) Frequency None Sporadic Quite frequent Frequent Permanent

The answer to each question in blocks 1 to 5 is the rounded average of the four elements:

  1. Proportion of types of Christianity persecuted
  2. Proportion of inhabited territory affected
  3. Intensity of persecution
  4. Frequency of persecution.

As a result of the WWL process, each country gets a specific final score. This final score is used to determine the order of countries from position 1 to 50 on the annual World Watch List. The WWL methodology does not produce 'absolute scores'. This is because WWL has not established standardized norms and measures against which to score specific situations.

The degree of persecution is characterized by a scale of 0 – 100 points, directly linked to a set of 96 questions covering five spheres of life and the prevalence of violent incidents. For practical purposes the WWL has split up this range 0 – 100 points into six categories.

The six categories are based on scoring intervals of 15 point, with the last group having 25 points. The number of categories and their ranges (15 or 25 point) do not have a special meaning.

Tools for monitoring hostilities against Christians

Developed by World Watch Research

The range of colors goes from dark to lighter to indicate degrees of intensity. These colours are however not prescriptive.

The WWL ranks countries according to their final scores. The most important reason to rank the countries is to be able to present a complex reality to the broader public. For this to be done properly, the WWL must always be paired with country persecution profiles that explain the particularities of the persecution situation in the country.

The ranks give the possibility to compare the countries on the WWL among each other. They do not permit to compare ranks of the foregoing WWL exercise with the actual one. This is because ranks are relative positions based on a set of country scores that differs from year to year.

It can for instance happen that a country receives a lower rank on the WWL while the scores are higher than the year before. If this happens, other countries have received an even higher score and have, therefore, ended up higher on the WWL.

On comparing country ranks for the same WWL, it must be stated that close scores can cause different ranks. The differences between these ranks are not necessarily very meaningful. This is due to the margin of statistical error inherent to any such exercise.

6. Information streams for the World Watch List

World Watch Research distinguishes two categories of questionnaires:

a) questionnaires belonging to the so-called 'field-stream', which are filled out by Open Doors' field staff and/or key contacts; b) questionnaires belonging to the so-called 'non-field-stream', which are filled out by external experts.

If both streams include multiple respondents, the respective questionnaires are integrated separately first, before integrating the two streams. If it is not possible for one of the streams to obtain a questionnaire, it is possible to use the World Watch Survey and other narrative sources instead. However, in that case, the persecution analyst of World Watch Research could use the provided information to fill out a WWL questionnaire in order to construct that stream.

7. Time frame for the WWL process

The time frame for the WWL process starts beginning of July and extends till December:
Processing of the WWL questionnaire
Send WWL questionnaire to Field & receive first results July 1 - August 31
Send WWL questionnaire or World Watch Survey to external experts & receive first results August 1 - August 31
First check by World Watch Research September 1 - October 31
Final completion by Field & external experts & check by World Watch Research October 15 – November 22
Overall check & follow-up by World Watch Research November 23 – November 30
Finalization new WWL (scores and ranking) December 1 - December 7
Finalization of other documentation for release of WWL December 1 – December 15


Brick Panel
by Janelle P in  Article

Egypt’s Christian community is in mourning following what the BBC has referred to as the “deadliest attack on the Coptic community in recent memory.”

Twenty-seven people were killed and more than 60 injured during the bomb attack on a chapel adjacent to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo yesterday, December 11th. All but three of those who died were women and children.

“Traditionally, women and children sit on the right side of the church; on the left side are the men,” a local source told World Watch Monitor. “Since it was a public holiday, the church was full.”

“A woman carrying a heavy bag walked into the church, sat on the women’s side and put her bag on the floor. After a few minutes, she stood up and walked out, leaving the bag behind. A few minutes later, there was a huge explosion.”

“This sent shock waves across the Christian community all over Egypt. Is this the beginning of another wave of violence against Christians?”

Eyewitness video footage showed the interior of the church littered with broken and scattered furniture, its floor spattered with blood and torn clothing.

“There were children. What have they done to deserve this?” a witness told the Associated Press news agency.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared a three-day period of national mourning.

Egypt’s Christian minority has often been targeted by Islamist militants. In 2013, the Egyptian military removed President Mohammed Morsi, the elected leader, who had connections with the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of Morsi’s supporters blame Christians for supporting his removal. A month after he was unseated, 82 churches were burned and hundreds of Christian homes and businesses were looted and burned in a two-week period of violence in August 2013.

Discrimination and violence against Egypt’s Christian minority goes back centuries. Blasphemy cases against Christians are frequent. Building or even repairing a church is difficult, if not impossible, and Christians find themselves placed at the end of the queue when it comes to things like education and welfare. Converts from Islam, as in many countries, are especially at risk, often from their families, who may punish them for abandoning Islam with beatings or expulsions from the home.